10. French Riviera Interlude
A brief review of the military experience of OUR MEN and the military actions on the European war fronts as we approached the landing in Marseille may be beneficial.
By 1 January 1944, The 103d Infantry Division was well established at Camp Howze, the men assigned to the ASTP program at the various universities were well into their programs of study and not aware that the progress of the war in Europe would very soon cause a major change of their future assignments. (It may be interesting to note that all of the ASTP men would be assigned to combat units destined for action in Europe, none were assigned to the Pacific war.)
As outlined in the historical chapters of other books; the Allied North African invasion and campaign had been successful, General Eisenhower had completed his assignment in that area and was on his way to Washington D.C. for consultation on his new duties as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front.
The invasion of Sicily and then Italy had taken place and by early February 1944, elements of the US 7th Army were stalemated at Anzio beach on the southwest coast of Italy. The tactical events in Italy, and the disagreements between the political and military leaders in Washington D.C. and London were beginning to determine the time and place of the landing of the 103d, and a number of other divisions, in Europe.
In mid-March 1944, the ASTP BOYS had been assigned to the 103d Division and began becoming a part of the preparation for combat service, most likely on a European front.
On 6 June 1944, the Normandy Invasion, OVERLORD, had taken
place. On 15 August 1944, the ANVIL invasion of Southern France by
the US 7th Army had taken place and the drive north through the Rhone valley
toward final link-up of the OVERLORD and the ANVIL forces on 1 September
Even as late as the time the 103d Division advance group went to New York to arrange for our boarding, the final decision to ship us to Normandy or Southern France may not have been made.
EXCERPTS FROM MARSHALL'S BOOK
468 Quebec Conference in September 1944. The Armies in northern France were now more than two million men strong and had broken out of the Normandy hedgerows (earth berm in the farm country) to seize Paris on August 25,1944.*MARS
470 The armored columns had raced east and south to join the forces of the American 7th Army driving up the Rhone valley. France was virtually free of Germans for the first time since June 1944.*MARS
Roosevelt had selected Harry Truman as his vice president and had been reelected for an unprecedented fourth term.
After the Marseille landings and the port had been restored to limited service, Eisenhower had gained the port capacity to supply his gasoline and supply short armies.
472 There were only 6 American divisions left in Italy, General Marshall promised the British that they would remain there until the war in Italy was concluded.*MARS
483 Montgomery's troops had captured the Antwerp, Holland port facilities intact on September 4th had bypassed the German units still controlling the Scheldt estuary leading to the port so that it was not possible for any of the much needed supplies to unloaded.*MARS
Only after the failure of the MARKET-GARDEN airborne assault did Montgomery belatedly move to open the Channel. The first Allied convoy would not dock until November 28; by then winter was hard on the land and Eisenhower's offensive had frozen from the Netherlands to Switzerland.*MARS
483 At Eisenhower's request, on the 6th of October, General Marshall
and a civilian "Manpower Mobilization Director" James Byrnes arrived from
the United States to discuss the rather serious problems of manpower assignment
and utilization on the western front. The winter offensive had to be considered,
and many of the combat units had suffered casualties, sufficient replacements
had not been found in spite of the efforts of Eisenhower and his staff.*MARS
Although the policy of putting the emphasis on winning the war in Europe first and then moving all available force to the Pacific War was understood and well established, General MacArthur and Admiral King and their forces certainly needed supplies and reinforcements in the Pacific war and Marshall and Byrnes were anxious that every available combat soldier assigned to Eisenhower's support and rear echelon units was being used.*EAW
The two generals and Byrnes reviewed the problems of having enough fighting men to sustain the drive toward Germany. Eisenhower expressed interest in having replacements or new divisions sent from the United States. Marshall explained that there were only two divisions in training, no more would be available. When the two divisions had been assigned, possibly into the Pacific, further training in the States would be only for replacements of casualties in all theaters of war.*MARS
Marshall suggested that Eisenhower and his staff needed to make a greater effort to comb the rear area supply and service units for men who could be assigned to the badly depleted infantry divisions and other front-line elements.*MARS
Marshall and the Director were very anxious not to exceed the mobilization limit of 90 divisions that had been set in June 1944. They wanted to examine and review the manpower situation and requirements in the ETO. There were more than 2.7 million Americans in Europe, 437,000 were airforce personnel and 470,000 were attached to ComZ (the supply and transportation units of the European forces). Slightly more that 50% of the remaining 1.23 million were combat soldiers.*EAW
It was imperative that the combat soldiers needed to be reinforced and encouraged. The proposal was made to give able bodied soldiers, who had been courtmartialed and confined, pardons if they would volunteer for front-line service. They considered offering blacks serving in segregated service battalions an opportunity to volunteer for combat at the front. Generals Lee and Smith were opposed to such radical departures from existing doctrines, Eisenhower con curred.*EAW
Marshall and Eisenhower privately discussed the problems of working with the British, particularly Field Marshall Montgomery.
Marshall flew to visit with Montgomery at his headquarters in Brussels on October 8th. Monty did a lot of complaining about Eisenhower's ability to properly command the tactical operations of SHAEF, Monty wanted to have more freedom to follow his own exquisite plans without interference and to have Eisenhower provide him with the proper support.*MARS
Marshall was furious, "I almost blew off my stack at him".
Marshall reconsid ered, this was Eisenhower's problem and it would be much
better if Ike dealt with it, though it was very hard for me to restrain
myself because I didn't think there was any logic in what he said but overwhelming
Marshall had met with Montgomery and listened to his views and proposals for the conduct of the war. He agreed with Eisenhower that Montgomery must be forced to clear Antwerp, made to become an effective leader in the coordinated drive to victory, and should quit his self serving complaining.*EAW
General Marshal and his group made a survey of northern fronts and he was more convinced than ever that the German salient around Antwerp in Montgom ery's sector and the Vosges in the 7th Army area must be eliminated to supply reserves to cover gaps in the front lines between Hodges and Patton.*EAW
484 Later on October 8th, Marshall flew down to visit with Lt. Gen. Devers commander of the 6th Army Group in eastern France. He discovered yet another rift in the coalition he had so painstakingly built. French General Jean de Lattre do Tassigny complained to Marshall about American corps commander Lucian Truscott getting the lion's share of the supplies, especially gasoline. Marshall told him, "You don't have a leg to stand on. You celebrated all the way up the road. You were late on every damn thing and...you are critical of Truscott who is a fighter and not a talker."*MARS
485 Marshall and Eisenhower had an opportunity to discuss the tactical and supply situation after the chief of staff's visit to many of the commanders and their units on the western front.
Marshall and the war planning board had outlined in 1942 a plan for the tactics to be used in the inevitable conflict in Europe. Eisenhower who had been a vital part of the formation of that plan was now commanding the execution of that plan.*MARS
The two generals and their staffs reviewed the progress of that plan since the landings at Normandy.
Eisenhower had mounted a broad campaign to drive to the Rhine
river, the last water barrier in Germany. He was setting up a 'grand double
envelopment' or pincers movement on the Ruhr valley the site of vital German
In the south Dever's French and American armies had punctured German defenses and had reached the Rhine and had captured Strassborg?? in spite of the worst rains in 50 years.
Patton's army had taken Metz and then clawed its way to the foot of the Siegfried line.
North of Metz the advances were meager in alternating rain and snow storms. The American Ist and 9th Armies managed to dig in on the frozen west bank of the Ruhr river.
British armies efforts to reach the Rhine in the Netherlands were costly and slow going with Montgomery complaining that he required a larger share of the available materials.*MARS
Marshall, Eisenhower and the American chiefs of staff thought that the tactical considerations of defeating Germany decisively and destroying their ability to rearm were very important.
519 These decisions were being made at a time when President Roosevelt was weary and preoccupied with postwar political questions, especially the organization of the United Nations; increasingly the president had referred matters pertaining to the conduct of the war to Marshall, regardless of their political quotient. "The entire responsibility was placed upon General Marshall, as chief of staff, and General Eisenhower, as theater commander," complained American diplomat Robert Murphy. "Both of these army officers accepted this responsibility without complaint, then or afterward, but it was inevitable that they would regard Berlin from the military point of view."
In the eyes of the British too, this was a damnable error.*MARS
In October,1944 several Infantry divisions had been "combat loaded" in the United States. They were ready and able to disembark with their arms and support units as reinforcements at the port facilities of Marseille that had been secured in the August attacks. The 103d Infantry Division and its "combat ready" 103d Signal Company were part of these eager warriors. OUR MEN, the first or second to land since the original August action, still felt a great deal of excitement and importance to the war effort, I think.
The men of the 103d Infantry Division arriving in southern France were to become part of a very extensive military and political drama that had started years and months before.
Our role in that ongoing scenario would be determined in a
major way by the sometimes controversial interactions of the military and
political leaders which had already taken place and the events that would
now occur as a result of past decisions and successful or unsuccessful
campaigns of the war in Europe and the Pacific.
The Seventh Army and its units, including the 103d Infantry Division were affected at times by the resulting events caused by lack of mutual understanding and cooperation of the political and military leaders.
Lt. General Devers commander of the 6th Army Groups, in direct control of the U.S. XV Corps and VI Corps containing the 7th Army and the Ist French Army, had never commanded a unit on the battlefield, however he had been picked and trained by General Marshall for his present position and he understood the organization and present purpose of the SHAEF command.
Devers was well informed of, and agreed with Eisenhower's plan for the direction of the Allied forces in northeastern France. American forces would occupy the center of a strong coordinated front pushing toward the German border and beyond to the Rhine river.
The British forces, under the control of General Montgomery would be on the north side of that front, the French forces, a part of the US 7th Army, would be on the south.*R-R
The U.S. Seventh Army was commanded by Lt. General Alexander Patch, a soldier with an impressive military career that stretched back to the American frontier wars. Born at Fort Huachuca, Arizona Territory, in 1889, the son of an officer in the 4th Cavalry, he graduated from West Point in 1913, a classmate of Patton: served in Brig. Gen. John J Pershing's expedition into Mexico; and then commanded an infantry battalion during World War I.
Early in 1942, General Marshall had selected Patch to command a hastily assembled Army task force headed for the South Pacific.
Quickly transforming that force into the Americal Division, Patch took it to the island of Guadalcanal in December 1942 and as commander of the U.S. Army XIV Corps, led a force of one Marine Corps and two Army divisions that finally rooted out the island's stubborn Japanese defenders.
At Marshall's request Patch returned to the United States to train a Corps of American troops in desert warfare. By the time Patch was able to bring his Corps to the Mediterranean in early 1944, the desert campaign had long since ended.
Marshall selected Patch in March, 1944 as the commander of the Seventh Army that was being prepared for the invasion of southern France. It was not typical for Marshall to directly select commanders at this level. This bypassing of Eisenhower may have caused some conflict later among the commanders in SHAEF, the US 6th Army Group and the US 7th Army.
Assigned to the 6th Army Group under the command of Lt. General Jacob Devers, who believed in letting his staff and subordinates make decisions, Lt. General Patch had an unusual amount of autonomy to direct his forces.
Patch fully intended to implement the deployment concept he had promulgated late in August--concentrating de Lattre's French force on the 7th Army's right and Truscotts VI Corps on the left. The VI Corps, to which the 103d Division would later be attached, was then to advance northeast across the Vosges Mountain to Strasbourg on the Rhine River, while the French divisions would push through Belfort Gap to the Alsatian Plains.
This plan had the approval of SHAEF as of 4/6/ September, 1944 The arrange ments provided the 7th Army with but a single Corps, the VI. It consisted of but the three original US divisions; 3d, 36th and 45th, although three new divisions were expected to land at Marseille in October and November, to augment the VI Corps. *R-R
The first push into the Vosges began on 20 September. The three divisions, along about a 30-mile front began to move northeast (roughly from Jure on the south to Remiremont on the north). However, the advance appeared to have been stalled by the end of October. Bruyeres was taken by the 18th and Brouvelieures by the 21st, as well as an area west of the valley of the Meurthe. *R-R
Getting fuel and supplies to the fighting fronts became a problem and slowed down the Allied advance in both northern and southern France. The French units commanded by de Lattre in Marseille did an excellent job in supplying the 7th Army units fighting in the mountains, but the flow of even these supplies began to slow as the distance between the port and the front increased. *R-R
The 7th Army progress was also slowed by very poor weather, lack of air support, and fatigue of the troops. By the middle of September, the aggressive fighting spirit of the officers and the men of the three American divisions and their supporting units was definitely impaired. Companies, platoons, squads and individual soldiers; the strong elements most needed for advancing in this type of close-combat, where the terrain so heavily favored the German defenders, had weakened.*R-R
This slowing of the Allied advance was not only occurring in the VI Army Group, with its single army (the 7th) and its single corps (the VI). Those British and American forces that had made the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 and the reinforcements units that had followed them were having many of the same difficul ties.
Eisenhower was convinced that (because of the lack of aggressive fighting men, supplies and weather) an all-out offensive to defeat Germany by the end of 1944 was impossible. However, it was necessary to push forward on a broad front in a coordinated effort.
The November offensive for the 6th Army Group was planned. "A successful offensive would depend greatly on the capabilities of the fresh but untried 100th and 103d Infantry Divisions and the equally inexperienced 14th Armored Division, all of which were scheduled to enter the front line as soon as possible" In the final plan the VI Corps was to launch its part of the November offensive on 15 November. The 103d units would be flanked by the 3vision on the north and the 36th Division on the south. *R-R
On November 2, the first of the three new promised divisions joined the 7th Army..the 100th Division. It provided relief for the 45th.
Between the 9th and 11th of November, the second of the new divisions joined the 7th Army...the 103d Division. It would provide relief for the 3rd Division after unloading at Marseille the 20th of October. It was noted that these divisions were originally destined for northern France (Atlantic coast) and were redirected to the 7th Army by Eisenhower. *R-R
OUR MEN: DONLAN
On Friday, 20 October 1944, The sea was choppy and air cold in early morning. We sighted the coast of France in the hazy distance at 8:30 a.m. on the starboard side. We prepared equipment all morning for disembarking. As the coast came closer into view, it could be seen to be rocky and hilly. We sighted Marseilles about 11:30 a.m. - on the inland side of some large rocks in the sea. One of them had a large castle on it.
Marseilles is partly on flat land - and up into the surrounding hills. We anchored for awhile after noon in the large, natural harbor around which the city is built. The Mediterranean was blue and calm in the bright sun.
On the left side and stretching along the sea was a wonderful railroad built into the barren hills. There were only a few trees. Every bit of it was either tunnel or bridge in Roman aqueduct style. We gazed in wonder at this "new" foreign land from the decks of The Henry Gibbons. There were also factories built in tiers up into the hills. They were all deserted. Atop a hill was a beautiful cathedral with a golden statue on top and winding stairs leading up to it. We saw a large convoy headed out from Marseilles to sea.
We now entered the inner harbor - slowly - behind the breakwater construction. A German direction sign still remained on one of them. British ships were in the inner harbor unloading troops. There were about five scuttled French ships in the harbor and many collected and disarmed mines. It was announced that we would disembark in LCT's. We ate our last chow aboard about 1:30 p.m. with this new strange land in view. All I could think of was - what a difference from the flatland of Minnesota and Texas.
There were several Frenchmen on the docks, looking for cigarettes. We were still waiting to disembark around 8:30 when the air-raid alert sounded. I was below decks and just sat still. I later learned that part of the city had been raided (?) and gun anti-aircraft flashes were seen on deck.
When I got up on deck, there was a smoke screen over the inner harbor. I went to sleep in my bunk and at 11:30 we were alerted that our unit (one of last) was to prepare for disembarking. Once more, I put on all my equipment and we marched with packs and duffel bags up to D deck square, threw our duffel bags down into the L.C.T. and climbed down the rope ladder.
Not sure we had practiced that? - perhaps. The pack was extremely heavy and we had to stand a long time for the L.C.T. to be completely loaded. After what seemed like ages, we moved off and across the harbor to the sandy beaches of France. It was midnight when we piled up our stenciled duffel bags on shore to be picked up later by trucks. We then lined up in company formation. Those packs weighed heavily on our backs after one long day. It was well after midnight. Terra Firma felt funny and good; we were tired, but have many miles yet to go tonight.
OUR MEN: ROREM
The first land we saw was near the Strait of Gibraltar, and after entering the Mediterranean Sea we could see the coast of Africa and the Cities of Tangier and Oran. We arrived in Marseilles, France on the evening of October 20, 1944.
Between the two world wars Marseille was the chief sea gateway of France. In the whole Mediterranean area no other port was so big and so busy. The port area was now a shambles of destroyed docks and facilities. Germany had requisitioned, dismantled, and shipped away much of the harbor equipment. At the same time the Nazis constructed submarine pens, and behind the jetties they organized convoys to the Italian front. To cripple their enterprises, the United States Army Air Forces and the RAF bombed Marseille from North Africa, southern Italy, and Britain. *NAT.GEO.
OUR MEN: ROREM
The Marseille we saw as we entered the harbor, and then marched quickly through on our way to our first camp on French soil was in poor shape as a result of the tragic recent history of German occupation, Allied bombing, and the recent invasion by the 7th Army troops we were on our way to reinforce.
Being in a foreign land with night darkness increasing, being a little scared, in weakened condition from the voyage, the landing, the confusing geographical setting, rightfully doubtful of our leaders ability to make any more sense of the situation then we had - all of this created psychological burdens for some of us, in addition to the physical loads we were carrying.
OUR MEN: EVANS
After arrival at Marseille we were welcomed by a German aircraft. As it flew high over the harbor area even the novices from the 103d Division could tell that it was German. The Kraut had never learned to synchronize the engines on twin and multi-engine aircraft and the distinct throbbing sound caused by the out-of-sync engines could not be missed. Air raid warnings sounded and lights started blinking off all over the harbor area as Marseille blacked out. The large "D"Deck Square hatches were wide open on the Henry Gibbons and the lights from D-Deck shown like a beacon across the harbor. We imagined that since this was the only visible target, the Henry Gibbons would soon be under attack. The aircraft apparently was only on a reconnaissance mission and, after looking around, left the area. It was a good thing because when we searched high and low for a switch to turn of the lights we found nothing and were about to shoot out the lights when the all clear sounded.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
On the 20th of October we approached a rather battered port of Marseille. There was an air raid alarm at 2000 hours and an all-clear at 2030.
At 2100 we climbed down huge nets into landing craft standing alongside the Henry Gibbons. At 2200 the landing craft grated against the French shore.
OUR MEN: BECK - written in AUSTRIA 16 June 1945
I was in Oran on my way to France - just for a short while, of course, but enough to see what the place looks like. Oran looks like the Casbah in the Charles Boyer Picture. Robed people that seem to be bent on some mysterious mission...probably dope peddlers.
(Andy Beck note: I have found no other 103d document that refers
to a stop in North Africa. Did the entire Signal Company stop in
Oran or just Captain Beck?)
(1995 Editor's note: Very strange, to say the least!)
OUR MEN: BECK - France 31 January 1945
We arrived in Marseille early one morning, and of course everyone rushed up on deck to see the city that heretofore had only been read about. There it was, snuggled away in the distance, between several mountain peaks.
I could tell it was a foreign city, because it just didn't look like New York City. Small boats scurried hither and yon, mostly bent on private enterprise. The harbor was cluttered with sunken and scuttled vessels.
We didn't unload on piers. Instead we disembarked on LCI's. They, in turn took us to the beach. It was midnight by the time my company was ready to go "over the side".
It was after 1 AM now and everything was as dark as could be. We had heavy packs on, plus horseshoe rolls consisting of blankets an shelter halves. Although we do not normally wear packs, we did this time.
With myself in the lead, we started our long walk, with instructions, that at every turn that we had to turn on, an MP would be there to direct us. The packs weighed about 70 lbs. as we carried practically all of our field stuff in them.
The packs got heavier at the end of each mile. Some of the men got tired and dropped out. The moon completely disappeared and a slow drizzle started.
At 3 AM we stopped and I ordered packs off and for everyone to eat their breakfast unit of K ration.
We then trudged on and on. I thought that my pack would tear my back off. Each step became more laborious than the previous one. More men fell out. At about 0530 I ordered the company into a field and bed down for a few hours. My first night in France was spent in a cold, rain drenched field, fast asleep, too tired and weary to mark the momentous occasion.
At 0730 we were on our way again and eventually arrived at the designated staging area.
OUR MEN: FADER
And then the beach in France...dark night...sirens...searchlights...over the side down rope nets...into boats and onto the beach where MPs were shouting for us to move off the beach and move on. but where to? We kept walking up hill in pitch black night. Not knowing where we were going or where we were, each of us in turn turned into the fields and went to sleep. The next morning you could see soldiers in disarray, lying down in helter-skelter fashion...very unmilitary. Then a jeep appeared with an officer standing and shouting for us to get back on the road and keep walking until we find our staging area. Eventually we did...a slightly inclined plateau. We were told to set up our pup tents...looking at the terrain I (we) chose the highest spot I (we) could find. I think my partner was BALLANTINE...
OUR MEN: THOMAS BROWN
Then we had to march from the docks to the staging area about 20 miles north and all uphill. We carried everything we owned on our backs, full field pack, cartridge belt, canteen, M-1 rifle, bayonet, gas mask and steel helmet. The march was at night in the rain. Guys were falling out and lying on the ground too exhausted to get up or to give a damm about the rain. I finally made it to the staging a and pulled a shelter half over me and went to sleep. It was another good decision.
That night it rained heavily and in the morning half the camp's pup tents were floating, but we were safe and secure.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
On Saturday, 21 October 1944 in a column of twos we marched off as a company across a shore road and up dark and narrow streets. Houses behind walls were dark and deserted. The streets were steep and winding. Rumors were of a 10-mile march, but we expected a much shorter one. Some of the hills were very steep. A train passed over a viaduct under which we marched into the night.
We had a break after a half-hour march, but it was twice as hard getting up again. The long marches at Howze didn't have these hills! The packs began to cut into our shoulders. After another hour, fellows began to drop out quite frequently - probably to be picked up by trucks. Now we're getting away from the walled homes and out into the countryside. As we took one more break, trucks and ducks began to pass us up. One truck smashed into a column, injuring several men and killing one. It's getting colder now, though we still sweat while marching.
We found fires along the way to warm by - and were often told, "only two more miles to go". At one point a group bedded down, while another group of us plodded on. We were also told to follow the high tension lines. About 4:30 and I didn't think I could go any further! The C.O. then decided to bivouac there a few hours. I unrolled my roll and slept with another fellow for a few hours - till 7:30 a.m.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
It was a dark, cold night. The streets we marched along were narrow and bordered by walls and shuttered windows. It was rumored that we had a couple miles to go, uphill. I remember the darkness, the man ahead of me, and the rather foul smell of the streets through which we passed.
Eventually we reached what seemed to be open country. I remember but one event along the way. One HAROLD MURPHY (Dallas, Texas) on the occasion of a rest stop, sat on a bridge rail, only to disappear backwards over the rail to fall some unknown distance into the darkness. As it turned out, he fell 10 feet, landed on his pack and came up smiling and apparently none the worse for it. It was fortunate that he wasn't carrying my pickaxe!
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
I don't know how many guys fell over backwards into darkness as MURPHY had. Perhaps it was only a coincidence that I was sitting very close to him (or perhaps some other "most lucky fellow") when my companion, name unremem bered, sat down on the top of a stone barricade and also disappeared, apparently as his pack pulled him over backwards. As I recall, at first, his absence seemed like some magical illusion - we couldn't image where and how he had gone.
In the darkness, using the light from a shielded flashlight, it was determined that we had been sitting on a parapet along the side of the road that had a drop behind it of about 8 feet into the yard of a farm house.
Our man was lying on his back down there. He was helped by someone up an embankment at the end of the parapet, shaken and bruised but able to resume the evening walk.
Just prior to this incident, our closest hiking buddies had another thrill...the roads were narrow, the passing convoy trucks etc. seemed to be moving through the darkness with reckless abandon. When there was an opportunity to stop for a brief rest, it was difficult to get back and safely away from the passing traffic.
An amphibious truck, DUKW, roared by very close to the troops who sat on, or tried to lean back on something, along the road. One of our buddies had not pulled his M1 rifle back out of the way far enough, his rifle stock was broken off from the barrel assembly.
For men who knew that their rifles were sacred objects, this was a traumatic experience - what to think, who to tell, what kind of punishment would be waiting when daylight revealed his embarrassment?
All of these were problems. The more immediate problem was, how do you carry a rifle "at slung arms" when the rifle sling is connecting two unsightly pieces.
We continued to get up after each short rest period, but as
the night began to grow longer, colder, and damper our strength and our
resolve began to fade away.
Already there was murmuring, even "bitching" and an occasional "discouraging word" as the proposed destination became a more and more distant and unobtain able end to our misery.
To just "fall out" and refuse to go on, was desertion! In spite of this imperative, men began to drop out and move out of the line of march singly, in pairs, or small groups,saying, "not another step".
Waldref and I, and perhaps others with us, just finally gave-up
and walked off the road, through a dewy field to the shelter of something,
covered up someway, and waited for the dawn and strength to return. We
were apprehensive. At daybreak we started out. Along the road
for the last 2 or 3 miles, other men were rejoining the hike in front of
us and behind us as far as we could see over the rolling hills
When we arrived at a disorganized camp on a dismal, rocky, barren site only about a quarter of the company was there. Some officers and non-coms leading men, or pretending to, arrived later that morning or in the afternoon.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY'
Near midnight the march was halted, more or less officially. The night was cold and still wet. We woke up to see a grey, treeless French wasteland... our destination.
About two miles beyond, rows of shelter halves were erected and the company settled in to several days of K rations. NOVOTNY and myself shared a tent... eventually to sport a floor, a shelf, and a candle holder. After the slit trenches were dug, the vehicles began to arrive, along with the first mail call. I noted at the time that the first mail brought NOVOTNY his notice of membership in the VFW. The nearest bar was two miles, the nearest village five, the city of Aix was twelve. A real rainstorm floated many of the tents away and the stream running down the company street carried bread, wine bottles and an occasional shoe, passing in review.
OUR MEN: ROREM
We expected to spend the night in some building but, instead, spent the night walking through the city and out to a barren area about 15 miles away. We finally stopped at dawn and tried to sleep on the ground in the rain. ROBERT FORCHHEINER and I spent the next two weeks in a shelter half-tent in an area assigned to the Signal Company. We managed to salvage most of our personal equipment from a flooding rain which turned the Signal Co. area into a lake. It was not easy to avoid the now-hidden fox holes and more than one person became wet to the waist after stumbling into one.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
When Jerome WALDREF and I finally did arrive at the camp area, and learned about the situation of the company, our prospects for living the good-life there appeared to be slim or none.
This cold, wet, rocky hilltop was a terrible place for men to even think about stopping for a short break, much less in which to set up a temporary camp.
What we had to do was to figure a way to just survive the next few days. It became the challenge; find a convenient, dry place for our tent, get warm, get food, and then "get lost" into the chaos of the company area.
We both would need to be "present or accounted for" in the official order and records, but not be too obvious most of the time. Jerry was a master at just this type of "survival skills".
During all of the training films we had seen on surviving, Jerry may have been learning the lesson - the most serious threat to his comfort and safety could be those closest to him. That surely must include any officer or non-commissioned officer that had him in his field of view at any particular time. Our primary purpose now was to avoid pain and suffering in the treacherous, hostile environment of this military organization to which we had been assigned.
We set up our tent as close as possible to one of the outer
limits of our assigned company area. We were next to an ordnance company
that had lots of work tents and repair vans, and lots of activity to mask
our proposed inactivity. I could see the advantage of being able
to just step over the line and almost disappear into anonymity... Lots
of soldiers moving about, some of them gainfully employed. We would be
hidden like two elephants who had joined a herd of elephants, almost undetectable.
Jerome could always see or develop the maximum advantage in any situation. Our nearness to the ordnance company was no exception. He would have business to conduct there later.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
On Sunday, 22 October 1944 I awoke, cooked C Rations and went to 9 a.m. mass in the field. We improved our tents and finished slit trenches in the rockiest soil in the world, Texas included! Looking around, we now see mountains - some with peaks above the clouds. Town off in a valley (part of Marseilles?). A Frenchman rode up to our area on a bike with a little boy.
Some G.I.s spoke a little French with him - just to get started. The bartering began - one pack of cigarettes for two quarts of wine. Had a nip and it was really warming! Had a detail of unloading boxes from trucks coming in from the harbor. Everyone's busy - wooden kitchens are being built. We put a wooden floor in our tent and fixed up a fireplace outside. Received first letters from home and wrote one, also. Found out we marched 12-14 miles last night. No wonder we're exhausted. Cut my finger bad on a C Ration can.
Another cold night in the tent - even with blankets. This particular part of France is dotted with German dud mines and former French glider obstacles. Not far from our area is the former Radio Marseilles - with an extensive antennae system. It is now operated by the U.S. Army - a signal battalion with several 399's. Mountains and a tree-lined valley in the distance.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
The next few days were busy for all of us as we were reconstituting ourselves into an elite unit of the U.S. Army. We began to lose that appearance of a bunch of guys who had just gathered together in desperation after a hard night of wandering in a foreign land.
As soon as the company equipment started to be unpacked and put in order for military purposes; the careful planning, bartering and packing Jerome had done back in Texas began to improve our personal living conditions. A helpful man from the supply section delivered Jerome his personal radio. It had made the long, rough trip perhaps nestled in the middle of a bundle of soft underwear. It was the very best available - a Zenith Transoceanic-All Wave Receiver. It most conveniently used Signal Corps batteries the Signal Company had in large numbers. Jerry was concerned about the inner condition of the radio for a reason, I did not understand. His examination, while I looked on in amazement, showed that the "Pinch-bottle" of Haig & Haig whiskey, packed carefully into the battery compartment of the radio, had safely arrived.
I had no interest then (or now) in alcoholic beverages and I am pretty sure that Jerry intended this valuable commodity to be used for barter or sale.
Jerome's "National Match" Colt 45 automatic pistol was delivered about the same time. I think he was the only enlisted man in the company with a 45 automatic pistol. None were issued. Some officers did have such weapons issued or paid for. There were very few, if any, other pistols of this quality in use by officers or men in Europe at that time, and fewer still that had been fired by their owners at the Camp Perry National Pistol and Rifle Matches.
Jerry's "business"' with the ordnance company, provided him with a mass- produced G.I. barrel for his pistol that he could use if it ever became necessary to shoot "something" and then discard the barrel. He never used that "disposal feature".... I think.
OUR MEN: EVANS
At the rain-swept Marseille staging area, we slept on solid rock in pup tents that constantly fell down because the wooden tent pegs could not be driven into the rock.
There was inspection after inspection to make certain that we had everything we were supposed to have and had nothing that we were not supposed to have. For these inspections, everything we owned had to be displayed on a shelter half (the one-half of a pup tent that was issued to each soldier). We did this in the unrelenting rain so everything we owned was soaked.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
Monday, 23 October 1944 now things settled into a sort of routine. Reveille at 6:15 with the band playing marches! Sun came out, but it's still chilly. We put up a large tent, ate C Rations and pulled guard in O.D.'s.
We were all glad to see the kitchen come into operation and even STEW looked good! We turned in all American money and were issued French francs (50 francs to the U.S. dollar). Days in the staging area moved along with alternate rain and sun. We kept fires going and pulled our share of guard and K.P. We heard special lectures from a 7th Army captain on the M-209 converter, radio procedure and signal security in the theater.
It looks like combat soon, probably to relieve troops fighting up north of us in the 7th Army. It gets dark around 5:30 and we usually have a bull session around the fire after chow. One of the very "challenging" details we had was rock-piling.
Important parts of any service organization are the toilet facilities. In garrison living, they are not that remarkable, except in derision and jokes. In a field situation, such as we had, the arrangements for the relief and comfort of the men and officers at times become more noteworthy.
Because of the large number of men assembled in the division area, and the rocky terrain, most of companies had latrines dug and constructed for them (perhaps by the engineers).
The Signal Company facilities included several '8 hole' box seating arrangements in addition to a urinal-pit.
As was usual, these latrine areas were moved as far as convenient
from the living area of the company. In our case, they were lined up along
an unimproved road at the rear of the company area. The road continued
to be used by the civilian population, male, female, and others.
Most of the civilian traffic was on foot.
In spite of the occasional freezing rain, cold wind, etc., there were no protective canvas walls or ceilings around the toilets. Privacy was not even considered. The civilians could be seen approaching some distance away by those seeking relief. In most cases, the women and girls could be identified, and would cause various reactions and responses by the men. Some would "cut-short" their business and retreat quickly, others would react in a number of predictable and unexpected ways.
In the group who remained "behind to be exposed", there were those who chose to ignore the passersby, others would smile or speak, the really savoir-faire' gentlemen would tip their hats and/or offer the ladies a seat.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
There was plenty of real work to be done in the relatively short period of time that remained before we would be moved closer to the fighting front lines in preparation for actually being committed to combat.
The Division and all of its individual units concentrated on the specific tasks most important for their preparation. For the fighting men of the division, that meant putting the "tools of their trade", rifles, machine guns, mortars, etc. in first class condition, and then practice-firing them one last time before the "real thing", to make sure those vital elements of the few basic items they would carry in the first critical days of combat would not fail them.
For the service companies, Signal Company, etc., the biggest
part of the preparation was preparing new or almost-new vehicles for specific
tasks of each operating section. The Construction section had 3/4 ton,
and 1 1/2 ton trucks that needed to be loaded with various arrangements
of wire-laying equipment.
Each of the sections of the company had special types of equipment that needed to be mounted in vehicles or trailers.
The Radio Operating section now had 3/4 ton trucks 'Weapon Carriers' in which to arrange and mount all of their radios and auxiliary equipment.
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 3/4 ton truck did not have an all-steel enclosure. It didn't have any substantial enclosure. The front seat area was covered by a canvas top and back- window 'garment' that flapped in the wind and just seemed to invite the rain, snow and ice to come in. The truck bed was separated from the front seat by the canvas bed-cover or tarp, another cover of limited value even for transporting bulk material, completely inadequate to protect electronic equipment, cryptographic machines and writing material from the severe weather we encountered. The operators were greatly exposed to all of the worst weather when the vehicle was standing still, and any movement with its accompanying swaying and blowing just added to their discomfort.
During the early days of combat in the Vosges mountains of France, in the snow, ice, wind and rain, the radio operating crews spent many very miserable days and nights in this completely inadequately weather protected vehicle.
Eventually, the crews were able to beg, borrow or steal plywood
or other materials to build more comfortable transportation and housing
accommodations. The canvas covers remained for additional protection
against the weather and for appearance sake, but the character of the vehicle
and the temper of the operators was completely changed.
OUR MEN: FADER
Then it was time to get ready for "move out" time. Assigned to Hennum's crew with "Andy" Pierce Evans. (Was there a fourth?) We used the time to install the radio equipment and, to protect us from a French winter, we raided a local lumber yard and built a shack on the back of the radio truck complete with bunks which became our home for most of our stay in the ETO--very, very worthwhile as the winter came on.
In addition to all of that special outfitting and loading of the vehicles in preparation of "moving out", there was the additional requirement that all of the personal equipment of the men and the supplies of the company, etc. must be loaded into every available space for transport several hundred miles to the front. After all of that was done, the men had to find space in the vehicles to which they were assigned to squeeze in for the trip. All of it was very challenging.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
K.P. in the little wooden kitchen at the head of our company tent area. Although it was raining out, it was warm in the kitchen and a bonus of good food. At noon, about half the company took a hot shower - the first since the boat. The days pass swiftly now. On Tuesday, 31 October 1944, two of us again went to Marseilles - getting to be our town.
We got a good view of the French countryside. A peasant was moving with his horse and cart, a farmer was sowing seed as in the Bible. We passed, on the bouncing truck, a chateau with walls and towers, an inn and hotel. We passed a number of Army convoys moving north. We passed the town of Cabries, built of stone with the houses row-on-row rising above each other on the hill. Into Marseilles on the Rue de Lyon past casinos and down to the dock area. The Germans did their best demolition work on buildings, docks and a concrete structure along the docks. We also saw a line of German prisoners marching along.
On Thursday, 2 November 1944, I made one more trip to Marseilles before we head north. I went alone and did a lot of walking. Found fishing boats down by the quay. Walked up stone streets for a great view of the harbor. One rocky island had a castle on it. I climbed much more to get up to the Church of Notre Dame du Garoe. It sits atop a rocky point above the harbor. Climbed stone steps to the church and all of Marseilles stretched below me. What a view! Inner and outer stone jetties protected the harbor and lots of equipment-unloading going on. Above me towered a glistening, golden statue of Christ and Mary. There is also an observation tower and grotto. I bought some souvenirs and said, "Bon Jour" to a Franciscan priest.
Picked up a truck-ride back on the Rue D'Aix - out the Boulevard de Paris along the docks and out the long Rue de Lyon. Passed an Arch de Triomphe with inscription, "A La Republique Marseilles Reconissaure". I even saw an old Roman-type aqueduct and French Renault cars gassing up at Texaco stations. Went through Calas, with its stone castle and battlements and towers. Saw big LST's of the Navy in docks. We went aboard one and were able to purchase a few precious candy bars. Barrage balloons still over the harbor and anti-aircraft guns. We saw the former luxurious Hotel Mediteraneo and went to mass in the domed Basilica Church by the harbor. When we returned to camp, we had to give the sign and countersign for security. The 100th Division moved out today for the Front.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
Social visits to Marseille after we had established our first camp were few. There was much preparation of the trucks and equipment for the move to be made, lots of problems and confusion in the camp because of the weather and the poor terrain.
The wharf areas were very busy with local commerce that had been able to become re-established since the August 15th invasion. 2 1/2 months is a very short time to accomplish much rebuilding of lives and occupations that had been devastated by the ebb and flow of a World War.
We saw a few very large, black French North African troops in red uniforms with baggy pants and red fez head gear. I don't know if any of these fellows ever faced the German or Italian troops, but if they had, and were properly armed, it could have been an impressive event.
(Editor's Note: Up to this point in the narrative, my personal experiences were recorded as OUR MEN: BARCLAY. This will be the first entry of the combined activities of Sgt. Jones and the members of his wire team, the form will be: JONES' BOYS)
Most of the operating teams had been tentatively formed before we left Texas or New York. In most cases, except for some last minute reassignments, there had been ample opportunity to train and work together for these smaller groups of men.
As nearly as I can remember, the formation of Sgt. Eugene Jones' wire team took place after we arrived in France. In any event, the original individuals of this group were: EUGENE JONES, JOHN ANANIA, BILL BARCLAY, RUDOLF DORTMAN, WILBUR ELLIS, RALPH LARSEN and HEBER TISCH. Some time later, and far down the road, they were joined by CARROL "Pop" KRUEGEL and MICHAEL MATRICARDI.
There will always be some question as to how often and how
long this bunch of individuals ever really formed into a "team".
They did do productive work and accomplished a lot. Some of it may have
been useful to the war effort.
11. Wet Rhone Valley Motoring
The movement of the 103d Division Signal Company from the staging area near Marseilles to an area closer to the combat zone was actually a series of movements by groups and sections of the company with their men and equipment.
We were all destined for the same general area of the Vosges mountains in eastern France, but the preparation time for various elements of the company meant that some of the earlier leaving elements arrived at the general assembly area before other elements who were putting their equipment in order at the staging area near Marseilles.
Moving 15,000 men and their equipment was not a simple process and required lots of time and many different methods of transportation. The departure schedules were spaced out; small advance groups of survey, command and control officers and men from the division, and escorts supplied from experienced units at our destinations were the first to leave.
These were probably followed in order by Division Staff officers, MP traffic control men, Quartermaster mobile-mess units, and then the very large number of vehicles of the division service companies. The men of the Signal Company were in this latter element of the "motor-march".
The most important men of the division, the infantry soldiers, were being transported to the front in the same way that soldiers of WW1 had been. They were loaded into almost the same type of railroad cars, French "40 and 8" box cars originally named for their ability to carry 40 men or 8 horses. Some of those men were already familiar with this type of transportation, having "ridden the rails" as hoboes in American box cars that were only slightly larger but just as cold and uncomfortable.
(1995 Editor's note: I had the been "on the road", that is, had spent some time riding-the-rails for pleasure and adventure as recently as 1984. Being put in jail or being run-out-of-town by the police was part of the education and adventure, if not the pleasure.)
The company trucks, trailers,
jeeps, etc. were loaded and overloaded with the "tools of our trades",
company supplies and records, 250+ duffel bags, personal weapons, contraband,
In addition to all of the special outfitting and loading of the vehicles in prepara tion of "moving out", there was the additional requirement that all of the personal equipment of the men and the supplies of the company, etc. must be loaded into every available space for transport several hundred miles to the front. After all of that was done, the men had to find space in the vehicles to which they were assigned to squeeze in for the trip. All of it was very challenging.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
Sgt. Jones' team members were in a 2 1/2 ton truck that had an assortment of all of the above, but the duffel bags we carried seemed to be the dominant cargo. The bags were piled almost to the canvas cover from the bed of the truck, leaving very little room for the 4 or 5 men that shared the space.
Our condition was typical of most of our men being transported in the rear area of the trucks. The driver and 1 or 2 front seat passengers had it only slightly better. Most of the windshields had been lowered as a precaution against possible air attacks, the side curtains were removed. The wind and freezing rain made front seat passengers possibly more miserable than those crowded into the rear.
At the end of the first day of discontent and grumbling, we stopped just before dark at a large park in Dijon where a field kitchen was setup in an unsuccessful attempt to provide a hot meal during a cold drissle of sleet/rain.
The instructions for the
night were to find as much comfort as possible on the wet, muddy grass
areas of the park - but stay out and away from the vehicles! There
were some timid souls who did just that. There were many more who
under the cover of dark crowded back into the cramped cargo spaces of the
trucks and trailers.
JOHN DONLAN has written an excellent description of our route from Marseille to the area of our first combat command post at Docelle.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Sunday, November
Up at 5:30, chow, tore down tents and got ready to go. We pulled out about 7:30 a.m. with 25 vehicles in our convoy, headed obviously north. We crossed the I.P. (Initial Point) at Aix at 8:45. A large town with typical town square and statue in the circle. The day was sunny and the fields green. We stopped the convoy every two hours and chow break at noon. We had three days of "K" Rations with us. Next towns were Orgon, Chateurenrd and Orange with its feudal castle on a high hill. Next was the large walled town of Avignon and we are now following the Rhone River north. There are mountains along the picturesque valley. We rotated drivers every several hours. We made good time and reached Valence toward dark. Just outside Valence we bivouacked for the night. We made about 120 miles the first day.
The next day we left before (or at) dawn along roads with white birch and autumn leaf canopies. Land flat at Rhone River level with terraced hills beyond. Through Tain and Annonay the convoy moved. More railroads with larger engines pass by -- with funny 4 wheel cars. Hillside towns with church steeples. People waved and seemed happy to see us. A large steel bridge between Vienne and town across the Rhone was partially destroyed. The small towns and mountains gave way to the large industrial town of Lyons. There were modern electric busses and a huge bombed-out railroad yard. We parted from the Rhone River and picked up the Saone River, and up through Macon. Sarvage and Chalon passed by with many boats in the river and a two car diesel train.
When we got to the large town of Dijon, we bivouacked in the park, cold and very tired. About 160 miles the second day. Our bivouac area was very muddy.
Tuesday, November 7, 1944 was a long day driving through rain. Out of Dijon on a wide boulevard through residential areas now. Evergreen trees mingle with autumn-leaved trees. At St. Michel chimes on an old church rang out the hour. Nearly everyone in this part of France wears wooden shoes. Moving due north through Langres (walled with an entrance gate). It sits above fertile valleys on a hill. Martagny Les Baines is an old town and Darney a new one. Noticed beautiful French cemeteries with stone arch crosses. Around 2 p.m. we got a flat tire and I had to change it in the rain. Towards dark we crossed the Moselle River and came to the town of Docelles where we pulled into a very muddy area near some wrecked houses.
We are said to be only 16 miles from the 7th Army Front. Combat soon. Our trip from Marseilles to Docelles on Moselle was 475 miles.
Awoke cold and dined on "delicious" K Rations. Place surrounded by a sea of mud and still raining -- Rain gear a must. I drew 210 rounds of ammunition for my "grease gun" weapon. Heard on radio President Roosevelt was reelected President.
Had a bad night cheered up with 10 in 1 Rations. Rain turned to sleet, and snow. Tuned up the jeep and gassed it up. Convoy led by Capt. BECK got on the wrong route and jeeps went up and down convoy at 60 m.p.h. trying to straighten it out. One of our 2½-ton trucks hit a jeep and killed the driver. We finally got the route straightened out and moved on -- minus our 399 radio truck. Now we began to see the destruction -- towns of Lepanger, Laval, Bruyers and others in bad shape. After about 15 miles, we reached our CP at dusk. It was hill, muddy and curving roads -- also very wooded. Drove blackout leading a 2½-ton truck on narrow, curving roads. Now enter combat area with artillery firing all around us. To add to our troubles, it started to snow. After several hours, we returned to the small town of Docelles, just west of Colmar -- and Division C.P. A cheerful fire was blazing and went to sleep freezing under the stars.
OUR MEN: EVANS
The order came to move out. Each driver was given a strip map, essentially a single line map showing a wiggly line connecting together the towns that we would be driving through and giving the approximate distances between towns.
We formed up in a convoy turned on our head lights and moved out. It seemed simple enough. Stay in line; keep the proper distance from the vehicle in front of you; keep the convoy closed up; and we would all arrive at the next assembly area together.
That was before other convoys started trying to pass us. They had their headlights on also. And there were individual army trucks that were not parts of convoys darting in and out of the column. Several other convoys merged with ours. The "Red Ball Express" carrying supplies to the front got priority treatment. This further fragmented our convoy. Before long, we were hopelessly strung out along our route.
The war had been here just a short time before. There were many knocked out German vehicles and tanks alongside the road and the green troops from the 103d did a lot of rubbernecking further exacerbating the problem by spreading our column out even more.
Our 500 mile route took us up the Rhone River,--- Avignon, Valence, Lyon, Dijon and finally to a staging area near Docelles. We arrived there in light snow.
It took several days for all of the stragglers to finally assemble at Docelles and then it took a few days more for everything to get sorted out. We left everything we didn't absolutely need in storage at Docelles.
OUR MEN: FRANK KRAFT
As we were moving up from our area near Marseille, our convoy containing a number of Service Company units in addition to some of the Division Artillery vehicles was split so the MPs could allow a lot of Artillery trucks in the very long line of trucks to move on ahead of us.
These trucks were loaded with Riflemen probably headed for a slightly different section of the combat front. Perhaps their mission was more timely and important than ours. When those 50 or so vehicles had passed on, we were directed to move back into the line-of-march.
We were now cut off from the guiding vehicles we had previously been following. The little sectional map we had with us was of limited value. We were already 5 miles beyond its last guidepost.
The road was mined on both sides, according to the information we had, we couldn't turn around so we just followed along behind the truck ahead wondering where we would finally end.
We finally had a stroke of luck. Ed JALLOWAY, the other driver with me, and I talked to a Second Lt. who knew where our Signal Company vehicles were to go. He said, "Don't make any mistakes or you will run into the line of commitment".
We made all of the right turns, and also the correct left turns, with about 40 of the rest of our trucks following. The Lord was on our side and we found our Units about 12 midnight.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
We were moving and following most of the division and the signal compamy several days after the majority had made the trip. We would be heading for an area to the rear of the bulk of the division units.
After mounting more test equipment in the Small Arms Repair (SAR) truck, the radio repair unit left the staging area by motor convoy on the 6th of November. Passing through Aix, Valence, Lyon and Dijon, it arrived in Docelles on the 9th of October.
While I made note of the towns we passed, at no time did I get to see a map of our route, nor did I have the foggiest notion about the disposition of other components of the company or the regiments... and for a Pfc. that's the way it was. In fact, the Germans knew far more about our location than I did.
The German lady broadcasting from somewhere had welcomed the 103d, reminding us that we were expected... this, after erasing all those references to our unit identification back at Howze.
12. Lost In The Woods And On The Roads
The Normandy armies driving from the east and the 6th Army Group armies approaching up through the Rhone valley joined forces on 1 September 1944. The problem of supplying the massive amounts of war material to sustain the combined drive toward the German boarder by the now combined forces even with the improved ports on the Channel coast and the rapidly clearing facilities at Marseille contributed to a slow down of the advance. Another major problem was that those front line troops that had advanced from Normandy were suffering fatigue and some loss of spirit. The same thing was happening to the forces of the 7th Army even though they had been engaged for a much shorter time.
Eisenhower and his staff reluctantly accepted a short period of rest and resupply, but it was obvious that the Germans would also be able to use that respite to strengthen their forces. The worsening weather and any unnecessary delay would favor the German defenders. This situation applied for all sections of the Allied front but it was of special concern in the 7th Army section on the extreme right (southern edge) of the Allied front in the 7th Army sector.
To the east of the 7th Army, toward the Rhine river and the German border, were the lower Vosges Mountains, the higher Vosges mountains and then a wide plain leading to the Rhine river. It was expected that the Germans would use each of these physical barriers to slow and/or stop the Allied advance until the winter snows would close off the mountains, and the later spring runoffs would make the rivers of the plains uncrossable.
The 103d Infantry Division had been committed to action on 11 November 1944. The Alsace region of eastern France in which the 103d division would now be operating was no stranger to territorial conflict. Rule of the region had been under dispute for centuries. Originally, the territory was neither French nor German its ownership went back and forth....Germany annexed much of the region by force, the French language was forbidden by law and the men were conscripted into the German Army. But this episode, too, ended in 1918 when France regained its lost province in the "Great War." The German conquest of France in 1940 had turned the tables again, as the region became part of Hitler's Reich. Finally, ownership would be turned over once more in the fall of 1944 with the Allied liberation. Alsace would again be French. *WWII
As might be expected, the region was a paradoxical mixture of two cultures - although German was the native tongue, with liberation that language was forbidden by law. There was an unmistakable German feel to the region. Although they were nominally French, there was an unmistakable Teutonic air about the people. Even so, the largest city in the region was Strasbourg, and although it was just across the Rhine River from Germany, it was a long-standing symbol of French patriotism. *WWII
When the 103d division was committed to action, the 7th Army and its divisions, 3rd, 36th, 45th, 100th, 103d and 14th armored were pushing forward as rapidly as possible. The 36th had as one of its primary goals St. Die. When the 103d arrived at Docelles, it was assigned the task of assisting the 36th in a drive of St. Die. It was to seize the high ground southwest of St. Die, and then drive into that large city.
Before the 103d Division
could become a strong force in the coordinated attack by the 6th Corps
in mid-November (the time at which the 103d division was committed to action),
it had to clear a two-mile wide, triangular-shaped wooded hill mass between
St. Die and the Taintrux valley. The 409th and 411th Infantry regiments
accomplished this mission during the period 16-18 November, while the 410th
guarded the division's left flank.*R-R
MONTHLY REPORT OF ACTIVITIES - NOVEMBER,1944
103D DIVISION SIGNAL OFFICE
1. The 103d Signal Company received its initial combat experience starting 12 November 1944 in the vicinity of Les Rouges Eaux, France. On this date the company started to perform the primary mission for which it had been in training for approximately two years that is, furnishing telephone, telegraph, radio and messenger service for all command and administrative elements of the 103d Infantry Division and attached units.
TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMMUNICATION: The initial command and administrative
telephone and telegraph network installed in vicinity of Les Rouges Eaux,
France, required 110 miles of W-110 wire and two TC-4 switchboards.
The installa tion and maintenance of this communication system presented
some problems that had not been previously encountered even in maneu vers;
namely, a rugged mountainous terrain with a limited number of narrow, winding
access roads, and terrain features that precluded stringing of wire across
country. These two facts coupled with the extra heavy vehicular traffic,
due to the relief movement of regi mental elements made the maintenance
of wire communications a most difficult problem. In spite of these
obstacles, wire service was maintained with all units 95% of the time.
3. RADIO COMMUNICATION: The regular S.O.P. radio nets were installed and continuity of service maintained with all elements 100% of the time through the use of relay stations located at strategic high locations, necessitated by the mountainous terrain.
4.MESSENGER SERVICE: Scheduled and special messenger service to all Division elements, Corps, and attached units involved a total daily mileage of 390 miles per day, some of which were covered under extremely adverse conditions at night in blackout conditions.
5. The initial installation at LesRouges Laux was followed by duplicate installations at the following villages: Nompatelize, La Pecherie, Provencheres, Lubine, Fouchy, St. Martin and Dambach laVille. In all of these installa tions conditions were comparable to the initial installation.
6. In addition
to the installations at Forward Command Posts, Rear Echelon installations
were made at Bruyere and St. Die. The Signal personnel located at
and servicing the rear echelon elements were personally commended by the
Commanding Officer of the Rear Echelon Group for the type of service rendered
and the manner in which they performed their routine duties.
History of 103d Signal Company November,1944
With its primary mission to service the operating sections of the Signal Company, the service elements initially started to function tactically in the vicinity of Les Rouges Eaux, France. Organized into a mess section, a supply section, a division signal supply and repair section, a motor maintenance section and a headquarters section, the service groups were a part of the Division forward command post, with the exception of the division signal supply and repair, which is normally located on the Division MSR. It was, at this time, located in Brouvelieures, France.
Functions of supply were normal. It was found that equipment authorized by T/O & E 11-7, dated 11 December 1943 was far below the company requirements. Telephones, vehicles, tents and trailers were the items highest in demand. Authorization for additions of these items was granted and obtained. The status of supply was foundto be surprisingly superior to that in the Zone of the Interior. Replacements were expeditiosly and led by higher headquarters and no difficulty was encountered in obtaining items needed.
The mess section
was confronted with the problem of feeding approximately 250 men three
times a day without additional help from the operating sections supplying
KPs. A "two-a-day" meal policy was adopted to alleviate this situation.
The men, in general, felt satisfied with the system. There were,
however, occasional complaints as to the variety, the palatability, and
the quantity of each meal served. These complaints, in most cases, were
justified. One cause was found to be the lack of ingenuity on the part
of the cooks. The condition is being corrected by requesting more
"B" rations, the organization of an advance mess team transported by a
newly acquired trailer and a trial period for the mess sergeant after a
conference and reprimand with the company commander. All personnel
are stocked with emergency rations, such as "C", "K", and 10 in 1 rations.
(1993/4 Editor's note: This system was not as great in the field as it appears in the report that was forwarded to higher authorities. It should be noted that it was not long before Capt. Beck's favorite mess sergeant S/Sgt CORLEY was back in charge and Sgt. George MEE was back to cooking. In retrospect, there is no reason to believe that Capt. BECK would make a change in mess management that would not be in the best interest of the Signal Company and the men.)
During the time the division was actively engaged, the wire teams and radio operating teams and others assigned to follow the action would as often as not go for several days without ever being near the company mess at a proper time to be fed.
Trying to turn the provided emergency rations into palatable food in the environment in which we operated was not easy or seemingly at times possible.
The wire and radio teams also cooked for themselves food borrowed from the population, the mess tent, other units, etc. There was a very good spirit in many of the attached units of the division and some very satisfactory dining was done at Artillery, Tank Destroyer, and other combat outfits.
The 614th TD mess with their
negro cooks and great spirit was a favorite stop for one of the division
wire teams. The cooks there were particularly clever at taking the
standard issued supplies and those taken from the countryside and combining
them into very tasteful meals
Some of us may have thought that was a generic ability along with singing and dancing. More than likely it was because they tried harder to feed their men, and they had lots of fun and satisfaction doing it.
(1993 Editor's note: At
the time of these events, negro was the proper description of those "Black",
"Afro-American" or whatever is now Politically Correct. They were men of
ability and pride. The country and the Army has come a long way in
recognizing the value and dignity of all of its citizens.
1944 - CONTINUED
The motor maintenance section performed its duties under tactical obstacles, completing approximately thirty-five (35) 1,000 mile inspections, repaired dented bodies, fenders and hoods, and other routine functions. Two (2)vehicles were deadlined during the month, both as a result of collisions. First echelon maintenance was a contributing cause to many of the vehicles requiring repairs by the second echelon section.
Drivers were continually engaged in tactical signal operations with their vehicles, and many times were forced to forego needed first echelon mainte nance in order to keep their vehicle performing a needed signal function. Many vehicles changed drivers frequently, causing a further neglect to the personal and intricate care a vehicle needs. This situation was altered by the compulsory posting of assigned driver's name on the windshield.
The administration section functioned the same as garrison. The keeping of files, records, reports, rosters, etc. was normal. The selection of future locations is the responsibility of this section. The company commander and first sergeant accompanied the advance CP group.
When the CP site was determined, a Signal Company area was recon noitered, signs were posted and the order was sent back to the company supply officer to move the service group to the selected site.
On 18 November 1944, The 100th Infantry Division supported by the 14th Armored Division started a drive toward Strasbourg
OUR MEN: SEDENSKY
Assistant division commander, BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERCE, requested (?) one of our repair vans and we had to give it up. He made it into a nice little mobile-cabin.
He got that idea from the 3rd division. When we first got over there, Colonel BROWN, Major GALLAGER, and I went down to meet with them before we relieved them. We met with the 3rd division signal officer, and he had a van that was all paneled on the inside, with a map board that could be pulled, all of the comforts of home.
The 3rd had been in action for some time and had seen a lot of hard service - perhaps he was thinking that it just had to be, for the "good of the service".
OUR MEN: NANEY
As I remember, on our Wire Team was Sgt. LEE, Homer WRIGHT, Gerald NELSON, Gene NANEY, Warren HILLIARD and Gordon KAUFMAN. I can't seem to remember any more names, but I believe there were 8 members to a team. I think a boy by the name of DASH from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was on it, too. I was in a Wire Team that was attached to the 410th Infantry Regiment. We supplied them with communication from Division, which was wire, and our main concern was keeping that line in shape for communication. But usually as soon as you got to where you could lay down and get rest there was an open circuit on the line and that was anytime, day or night. Sometimes it was from tanks (and they took out a mile or more) or from a truck or a shell and I can imagine it was cut by a Kraut, or so it seemed. Through the mountains we were pretty well off, but there was always the part that seemed impossible to get past, but we did.
How many covered dugouts we occupied in the woods when we got close to combat! We slept on sandbags about the size of 10-lb. sugar bags and you can imagine the sleep we got, and it was wet... rain and rain... that was it.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
In the beginning I was given command of a three-quarter-ton truck, a driver and a helper and was assigned to be a telephone line trouble shooter. We went all over the division wherever we were needed, hardly ever seeing our company headquarters, eating at anybody's mess, and sleeping wherever we were. I can't remember who was on my team. I think one was HILLIARD, and the driver could have been NANEY or FAULKNER.
One of the things we had to watch out for was German Shu mines. They were named shu mines because they were designed to blow off your foot! They were simply constructed with a half a pound of TNT in a 3X3X3 inch wooden box complete with battery and a simple compression type detonator and were designed to blow off or mangle the foot if some unlucky soldier stepped on one. The idea was that it took a considerable more of an army's resources to care for a wounded soldier than a dead soldier.
We wire team guys got special attention from the Germans as they liked to plant them around telephone poles knowing that we used the poles to hang wire.
OUR MEN: NANEY
Next was the march (through the woods, along the roads and around the many obstacles) into combat, which was a long way off at the time. I can remember a long brick building in which we ate, and then formed for more movement forward. Mud was almost knee-deep. I don't think there was anyone who had dry feet after that. There were no dry feet for a long time. And then the roads that were built up over the hills and mountains with trees that were cut and laid across. Talk about corduroy... that was it. And there were pretty girls up in the hills. I learned that you sleep under a feather bed rather than on it, for it is much warmer.
OUR MEN: LOUCHART
When we went into action, I was assigned to a wire team consisting of four members; O'HARA who was our driver, BOYD, Lester CHASTAIN, Mc LELLAN and LOUCHART.
Our vehicle was a 3/4 ton, Dodge weapons carrier with a single reel wire unit on the back. We ran wire to a "zero board" at the wirehead that connected to the Division Command Post switch board.
I was assigned to T/Sgt. Lyndall FRAZIER who was the non-commis sioned officer in charge of the Construction Section of the Signal Company. We generally worked out of the Division C.P. carrying wire lines forward toward the regiments or laterally to the support units of the division such as the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
OUR MEN: EVANS
In typical Army fashion the 103d Division which had been trained in the swamps of Louisiana and on the arid plains of Texas was going to get its first taste of battle in the Vosges Mountains. It was no comfort whatsoever to learn that no army had ever successfully fought its way through the Vosges.
The radio teams were now official. T/3 Norvel "Bud" HENNUM, a former railroad telegrapher from Kennedy, Minnesota was our crew chief. The other members of the team were T/4 Mike SCHINDLER from Wayne, Michigan and T/5 Seymour FADER from Brooklyn, N.Y.
OUR MEN: FADER
Our first few days "moving up" to the Colmer area in the Vosges Mountains--cold, unpleasant woods. The first day "in the field" the cooks needed help and BOITOS volunteered me for KP, I think I was the first and only T/5 ever to pull KP. But it turned out to be a bit of all right. (English expression) Since the field kitchen was next to the company headquarters area, I was locateable by a cousin of mine who had been through Anzio and the Italy campaign with the 36th which was stationed alongside the 103rd. And he came calling and we met in the midst of the field kitchen. One of the pleasant moments to remember.
I also recall at about the same time this incident: In preparation for our sojourn overseas we had been lectured rather strenuously about German booby traps of all kinds. Well, that first week we moved into the mountains a few of us wandered around to appraise the area. And there, leaning against a tree was a German bed roll with a P-38 Luger on top. We all stood a respectful distance away from it, lusting for the Luger but leery of "booby trap".
Among our little group was a Texan who wore his helmet at a jaunty angle with Alamo in his blood--I think it was CURTIS-- who finally sneered at our timidity, walked right up to the bedroll and took the Luger. AND NOTHING HAPPENED! Except he now had a Luger and let everyone in the outfit know it.
OUR MEN: ROREM
We spent almost two weeks in the woods near Epinal, again living in our shelter half-tents. Everyone was issued two additional blankets to try and keep warm in the snow. As the Division began to move, I remember the city of St. Die. The entire city appeared to be burning as we went through it.
Pfc. Gordon Roget was an
ASTP BOY from Texas A&M who became assigned to an infantry company.
Much later, he became an acquaintance of the editor in Lodi, California.
His experiences dramatically describe what was happening in the rifle companies
In the fall of 1942, Roget was completing his second year of pre-med. school in his native state of South Dakota and became eligible for the military draft. He chose to join the Enlisted Reserve-Medical Branch.
During assignment, he was mixed with men assigned to the Enlisted Reserve-Engineering Branch and sent off to the West Coast for basic training as a combat engineer! He compounded this misfortune by qualifying as an expert with the M1 rifle.
On completion of basic training he was sent to a preliminary ASTP school in Sacramento, California. In October 1943, he was assigned to ASTP at Texas A&M along with many of OUR MEN who were arriving there at the same time.
When ASTP was terminated he traveled with us to Camp Howze and the 103d Infantry Division. He was assigned to 411 Regiment, Company B.
This is the first of the reconstructed excerpts from Gordon Roget's book. All subsequent entries will be in the same format.
When the platoon was moved up into the Vosges mountains, we were set up as guards, around an area where one of the division generals was camping.
The shelter we had was the
two man pup tents that were soon wet completely through and frozen.
We spent 4 hours on and 4 hours of duty. Finding our way around in
the cold, black night in the snowing fields was difficult.
My buddies and I, in what off duty time we had, talked over our future plans. We knew, however, that from the sound the sound of the cannons and other firings, short term views were of more importance.
This short period was over in just a day or two. The units were assembled onto the road, and we moved out toward the "jump off area" for the action we had been hearing.
It was raining, the snow was cold and wet, we walked on either side of the road in the traditional military method of movement. We continued to move through the Vosges mountains during the evening and the night.
The road was almost ankle deep in mud churned up by passing trucks and tanks moving equipment, but not infantry soldiers. Around midnight, we were ordered off the road and into the woods. Everyone was very cold and wet as we followed a trail, that was slippery with snow and mud, up to a clearing on the side of the hill. Some distance from the road, we were ordered to bed down for the night.
We had left our overcoats in a pile the night before. The coats we had been issued were the same type of full length, heavy wool that had been issued to the soldiers during WWI. These coats had become unusable, soggy wet and cold, the very first time we had tried to use them in the combination of rain and snow. There was no warmth in them at all, they were just heavy and useless to carry.
We were told dry coats and sleeping bags would be brought up the next night; we never saw the coats again, and never got the sleeping bags. Each man in the division had been issued a single wool blanket that could be used separately or in combination with another man. Most of these blankets were now soaked and cold. Some of us did continue to carry them in the hope that they would again become serviceable.
All we had for protection, day or night, were our rain coats. I was never warm, and continually shaking for about 2 weeks.
Time and Life magazines' reporter and photographer had seen us moving up the road earlier. A picture of our platoon and squad had appeared in Life magazine. The article said that the men had been issued long underwear, warm socks and other winter clothing in record time during that October. The fact is, we did not get any winter clothing until sometime in December. The picture showed us with our ordinary leather shoes, thin field jackets and no special winter clothing.
The process of trying to supply infantry men, who had to carry every item of clothing and supplies, was a comedy of errors, especially when it pertained to footwear. The foot soldiers - this alone should tell of priorities - during most of the time they were slogging through the mud and snow of the mountains, had only standard, cold, wet, leather shoes. It was almost impossible to keep sox warm and dry. The result was that many of the men developed trench foot and had to be taken out of action, temporarily or in some cases permanently.
Just when they were about to break out of the rain and the snow of the mountains, they were issued extra large and bulky shoepacs meant for use in wet arctic climates. On the dry, flat, and at times, very warm plains, they were tortured by their feet slipping around in the poor support of "eskimo" shoes.
This will be the first entry in REMEMBRANCES of excerpts from the original "diary" of the experiences of the members of Sgt. Eugene Jones' wire team. That series of recollections was typed by this editor, but include the comments and recollections of all of the members of the team working as a casual "editorial group". As mentioned elsewhere, carbon copies of the document were given to each team member for review. It is possible that this is the only written record of a group of OUR MEN that was subjected to this type of "peer review", but that does not necessarily suggest it is "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Only NATOLI and perhaps one or two others are capable of that!
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS NOVEMBER
7,1944 - DOCELLES, FRANCE - 3 NIGHTS
We hit our first combat Command Post (CP) and find that it leaves a little to be desired - all mud, confusion, and poor wet weather. All of the Signal Company men around the CP are getting as organized as can be expected in a very new, emotionally charged and confusing miserable situation. The wire and radio teams and some others assigned to the regiments are out there somewhere doing the same type of things, but in less secure positions. Sgt. Jones and his wire team have the pleasure of going out toward the combat area and laying the first lines forward from the CP. It is an Observation Post (OP) line for DIVARTY (Division Artillery).
The boys are very much impressed by our artillery guns and supporting equipment set up in a grassy, but muddy, valley which is very shell pocked from earlier action. The French houses in the villages that we have seen look just like those in the movies, all smashed and shot-up with bits of American and German equipment scattered about. We picked up a bit of extra ammunition, the 500 rounds of "small arms" we had didn't seem like it would be enough for the expected action to come.
Our drivers, WILBUR ELLIS and JOHN ANANIA, learn that the experienced men who "pass the ammunition" also pass everything else on the road with reckless abandon and that there are no slow lanes for the cautious learners. From then on our truck with its canvas top flapping is just flying low going every place in a hurry and just as big a threat to life and limb as any enemy or friendly action that we anticipate.
All of our night driving is under "Black Out "conditions with only two small 1/4 x 1/2 inch lights for headlights and markers of our position - stopped or in traffic at 50 MPH. The narrow roads seem overloaded with traffic and are poorly marked. We still are riding around in a big 2 1/2 ton truck #48 in which we left Marseilles. The driver-side mirror and part of the canvas on that side were torn away by a speeding truck going the other way in our first minutes out of the field of the CP and onto the road.
Soon after this frantic period, it was decided that we should be equipped with a 1 1/2 ton truck with a set of tandem wheels (one behind the other) on the rear. It was still capable of 6 wheel drive to get us over rough terrain but it had a working platform much closer to the ground and was much easier to get on and off.
For members of the wire team who spent lot of time working in/out - up/down, this truck became a real friend and refuge in trying times.
A very surprising occurrence has taken place. Some of us had assumed that when we finally got into the field in a combat situation that we would dress in our "fatigue clothes" or something very durable. We have been wearing our very best dress olive-drab uniforms, complete with necktie, etc. since we started the motor march north from Marseille, and that classy outfit is what we will wear in what will pass for combat for most of us.
Some of the more daring of us have removed our neckties and are leaving our collars unbuttoned. There are still some neckties to be seen around the CP!
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
The first night in Docelles was memorable in that we were billeted in a structure that had just been cleared of German dead a few hours before. I was on guard the first night and the sound of artillery sounded all through the night, and the sky to the north was red. I was told that the Division had been committed to combat on the 11th.
Radio repair and signal supply under the leadership of Warrant Officer Howard E. HOPPEL, moved to Brouvelieures, just past Bruyrers in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, on the 12th of November. The town was littered with grenades, ammunition, mines and shell holes. The repair truck was set up for the next eleven days and we quartered ourselves in just half of a house that remained standing. It was cold and Cpl. CARVER distinguished himself by, among other things, becoming a stove expert.
After the November 11, 1944 (anniversary of the 1918 Armistice Day) commitment of the 103d Infantry Division into action, the troops learned to fight against a determined enemy who hoped to delay our advance as long as possible to gain the advantage that the traditional winter weather would give to a defending army.
Long standing military theory stated that no army could advance through this Vosges Mountain area during the winter months - Napoleon and other great commanders had despaired to try, or pulled back in defeat. The French command had reviewed the U.S. Army decision before the campaign started and said it would fail.
An interesting bit of history is that Captain Harry Truman commanding a horse-drawn artillery battery was in combat in the same Vosges Mountains during WWI.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - 11 NOVEMBER,
1944 LES ROUGES EAUX
(CAMP IN THE WOODS) 10 NIGHTS
We have moved closer to the front line action in anticipation of having our infantry soldiers actually move into combat with the 6th Corps of the U.S. 7th Army. We will be fighting in a position near the 45th Division, the 3rd Division and the 36th Division.
Each of these divisions has been fighting for some time, the first two having been in Africa, Sicily, and Italy.
The 36th (Texas) Division went into action in Italy. All three made the invasion of Southern France as a second front to the more famous Normandy invasion, and have been fighting their way up through central France to their present combat positions.
It is going to really be a challenge to match their great records, as our soldiers relieve elements of the 3rd Division who have kindly opened a hole for us in the combat front lines.
This CP is on the western edge of the Vosges mountains and we are in a very primitive campsite among large trees, lots of snow and ice, and more mud being churned up every hour by any movement of troops or vehicles. We are sleeping 25 men in a squad tent - this is the only time that will happen. There will be times when we will have it a much better or much worse, but I think this is the last time during the war that we are in "Government Issue" accommodations.
We see our first German soldier, dead and partially covered by snow some distance from the road to our Chow-line.
There is "Beaucoup Kraut" (lots of German) equipment lying around in our way as we work. Most of it is beyond being useful, abandoned and trashed out and doesn't represent a threat to us, but there was a time when I was working to put the communications wire off the road and into a snow bank and I discovered that I was in the midst of many German antipersonnel mines.
These particular mines were made in wooden boxes to make mine-detecti on very difficult. Apparently they had been abandoned before being set-to-detonate. There was a certain amount of fear and caution in our actions for some time after that. It soon wore off and we became more or less carefree and in some peril.
Tanks and trucks are tearing up our 'phone lines that must be placed in the snow and mud along the roads. At night, the boom of the artillery sounds like it is just outside the tent. An occasional machine gun rattles in the distance.
All of us are feeling very low and then the thought - how do those infantry soldiers stand it with no break, day after day, night after night, out in the open or in holes of some sort.
We know a few of these unlucky men and have trained with, camped with, and been sent to the infantry division with some of these fellows out in the cold night. But for the luck of the draw or a slightly different technical background, we could be out there now.
(1993 Editor's note: See "SMITTY", ROREM, Roget and other narratives for casualties of squad members and buddies.)
OUR MEN: GILL
The first sounds of action were distant, but memorable. When we settled in the woods, the radio vehicles were deployed about 50 feet apart and we ran wire between so we could use our "whistle (sound-powered) phones". These, of course, did not produce new sounds but they did offer some sense of security in this strange and uninviting surrounding. The shattered trees, the recently abandoned foxholes (from whence we extracted some Kraut horse blankets for future use), scattered old items of soldiery (obviously abandoned long before) all evidenced that if, in fact, we had not yet arrived, we were, indeed, getting close. The new sounds of the area signalled somewhat the same feeling - coming up from the surrounding valleys was the intermittent sound of small arms fire (some familiar, some, like the burp gun, unfamiliar) and, at times, the seemingly incessant peeling of church bells. Overhead at night, the whistling of outgoing (hopefully) artillery shells as they spiralled in flight - and, of course, the engine sounds of "Bed Check Charlie".
Our crew assumed NCS (Net Control Station) duties as soon as we were established in the woods and it certainly did not take the Krauts very long to zero on our frequency and jam it good for us. Switching to our alternate frequency, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was smack dab on the 5th Army air station in Fozia, Italy.
Which simply meant that we listened to music, news, etc. from the U.S. Armed Forces Network all the time; it did not interfere with our CW operation and the Krauts did not bother to jam it.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 12
Today was a red-letter day for the company. Yes, the mail finally caught up with us. I was the lucky recipient of no less than 9 letters. It's just about all a fellow can ask for out here is to receive mail. That's the main, the primary and the most important request I have in every letter I write. Mail. Mail.
... While I'm on the subject of food, I might mention what I eat. For certain days I have a diet of K rations, sometimes C rations. On the more fortunate days I have B rations. B rations is essentially the same a C only its prepared by my mess section. Sometimes B rations have chicken (real big ones) or beef or pork, etc. One gets used to these rations, and they taste pretty swell when you are hungry. So far I haven't seen anyone lose weight.
K rations have 4 cigarettes per box, a stick of gum and a piece of candy, such as a chocolate bar.
(1994 Editor's note: During the 1994 convention in Phoenix, a group of OUR MEN, JOHN ANANIA, FRANCIS BIEBEL, ORAL BROWN, NATOLI, CLEM POST, HAROLD ROREM, JEROME WALDREF, and perhaps others were discussing this period when the Signal Company was operating in the Vosges Mountains ORAL BROWN, who had been assigned to the cooking staff told this story.
OUR MEN: ORAL BROWN
I was part of the cooking staff working with Sgt. GEORGE MEE, the Mess Sergeant. Along with a lot of other cold, dirty work I was assigned to guard duty in the Division C.P. which at the time was more like a spread out disorganized camp-out in the mud and snow. One night, I saw a dark figure approaching my somewhat concealed guard position out of the mists and gloom of the night. When the stranger was close enough that I thought he would hear my challenge, I said, "Halt, who is there?" He continued toward me even after two more challenges, each one more intense and desperate than the other. I followed the S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure), I aimed and fired a single shot at him. (It may or may not have been a "shot in anger" as the editor says.)
In any event, he froze in place, and then became disturbed. While he and I were both still trying to figure out what to do next, the whole somnolent camp came to life with a high level of anxiety. Before more than 200 or 300 high ranking officers and a few ordinary G.I.s had gathered around us, I could see that this shaken person was also a high ranking officer (possibly glad that he still was).
(1994 Editor's Note: At this point in the story we kind'a lost track of the rest of ORAL BROWN's story because NATOLI began to tell us what ORAL BROWN really should have done in following the S.O.P. He should have challenged ONCE and then fired THREE TIMES! ANANIA, who had more experience that most of us in looking out for the interest of General Officers and other staff people while on guard duty, had a contrary opinion. Before we got it all sorted out, I was afraid some one else would take a shot at one of OUR MEN even this long after the war!)
OUR MEN: EVANS
We were assigned, in the Division Command Net, to Headquarters 411th Infantry Regiment. Headquarters,-- that had a nice safe ring to it.
The 411th Infantry Regimental Commander was Col.Donovan P. Yeuell, a soldier's soldier, regular army, a veteran of WWI and, as we were soon to learn, a rugged hands-on commander.
During the night of Nov.
15th the 411th Regimental Command Post (CP) was set up in a lumber mill
near Rougeville. We parked our radio truck well out of the way of
traffic in and out of the CP but as the sky began to lighten at dawn, it
became obvious that the Germans, dug in along the mountain ridges in front
of us, would have a clear view of us when it got a little lighter.
Bud Hennum, our crew chief, went in search of a more sheltered location. He returned in a few minutes with word that he had found a good spot between two buildings, just room enough for our truck. I started the engine but before I could get in gear, there was a heavy explosion and pieces of a vehicle flew over the tops of the buildings that we were going to park between. Our first choice for a parking place had been anticipated by the Krauts and they had mined it. Someone else had beaten us to that "good spot" and had paid heavily for the privilege.
We couldn't stay where we were so Bud went in search of another spot and returned shortly with a second choice. It was not very well protected from enemy fire but the truck would be hard to see from the ridge occupied by the Germans. I stepped on the starter and experienced déjà vu. This time a wheel of a vehicle and a man were thrown up higher than the building by the thunderous explosion.
Moving about under the
circumstances did not seem advisable. Bud said,"Maybe we had better stay
right here," and the whole team agreed.
In about an hour, a column of tanks came down the road past the CP. It was preceded by engineers with mine sweepers. They swung their mine detectors back and forth and moved cautiously into our area.
They pulled several mines out of the ground around our truck. The tracks of our wheels in the mud ran right between them. When we pulled off out of everybody's way, we apparently pulled too far off and got into an area that had not been cleared of mines. This was the first but it would not be our only close call with mines.
OUR MEN: LT. OLIN JOHNSON
When we were up in the Vosges in the mud, I was out in the rain, the mud up to my knees and the mess working with a wire crew trying to lay wire and shoot trouble on the lines. I had my trench coat on.
One of the men said General Haffner was coming up, I went up and saluted him. About an hour later, Colonel Brown called me into the CP and said, I just got a call from the general that one of my officers was out there without his coat buttoned." I said, "Aw the horses ass!". Brown said, "Don't worry about it."
At another time, General Devers - 6th Army Group Commander - came by while we were working, I saluted as he passed and then he stopped and called me over, "Lieutenant, I know you and your men are doing a good job, out at all hours, etc., but they must be wearing their helmets, he was kindly. He left and I looked at the men climbing poles, picking up wire and equipment, it was almost impossible to do that work with a helmet banging on and off your head.
OUR MEN: HARLON CHAFFEE
I wasn't with a wire team. I operated the wire head (zero board) and worked with Sgt. FRAZIER and John LASARZ - he was my number one trouble shooter and good buddy.
I monitored the lines and went out trouble shooting. I made line route maps of the wire networks and turned them to Colonel Brown or Major Gallager.
I don't talk about my combat time much, there were so many horrible days and sights. I've always tried to put them out of my mind. Still some occurrences come to mind; when I got on the wrong road one night and was captured by our artillery guards. I had quite a time talking my way out of that one.
When the infantry advanced the other wirehead team leap frogged us and then our old setup would become the rear CP. In between set ups, I some times went out with a wire team, shot trouble, worked on advance lines; always something to do.
I was assign a weapons carrier. I tipped over one night in the rain while driving "blackout". I crawled out and walked back to our set up. I never saw that vehicle again, I was issued another.
I had a small enclosed German trailer, that I found on the road, to carry my equipment and stuff around in.
Once I got left by myself
in a little town when the group I was with made a fast exit. I was
there a couple days hid up overhead in a little building till they returned
OUR MEN:DONLAN -
Saturday, November 18, 1944
C.P. moving today. Pulled up remote lines to message center. Our radio team moved several miles up winding roads into the Vosges. Passed town of Jaques, of which there was little left. Helped lay the 28 line down to the switchboard in Jaques and back to old C.P. in blackout. Slept under the stars with no tent.
Monday, November 20, 1944
Trying to move our radio truck to La Bourgance and La Salle, had flat tire and we stuck two trucks in the mud. These towns pretty well destroyed also.
Tuesday, November 21, 1944
We began monitoring an anti-aircraft warning net with 40 stations. Lucky enough to get a stove for our tent and brought in wood to burn against the cold mountain chill. On the radio set from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., but quiet without much traffic.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 21
Why, I am getting to be an old man, I am 25½ - and for me that's old!
Each officer here receives a ration of whiskey - if he so desires to purchase it. Cost 105 Francs. The whiskey is American in any national brand. The E.M. don't get any, an idea which I think is bad. I purchased a bottle (1 qt.) through the Army Agency. I put the bottle in the company safe for safekeep ing until Christmas, when I will give it out to each E.M. that works in my "office". Each of the other officers likewise made a purchase and are also going to ration it out to their men.
As part of the 6th Corps plan, on November 23d, the Division advanced eastward toward Ville, an important road junction deep in the mountains. The drive was then toward Barr, on the Alsatian plains eight miles northeast of Ville. The advancing troops encountered heavily mined roads, well- defended road blocks, artillery and mortar fire. In trying to outflank and neutralize German defenses, the platoons and squads traveled muddy mountain trails. *R-R
On November 23, 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division commanded by French General le Clerc and elements of the U.S. 79th Infantry Division drove into Strasbourg in the provence of Alsace. Two days later the German commander of Strasbourg surrendered with 6000 soldiers. This area of the western front was of political and strategic interest to the Allies, especially the French. The enemy abandoned Phalsbourg at the west end of the Savern Gap. But they retained a small bridgehead at Kehl, just across the river. The German high command also were anxious to have control of this sector since the occupation of Phalsbourg, Savern and Strasbourg meant a serious threat to the industrial basin of the Saar. Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler hurried to Alsace in order to organize the German defenses and to prepare for a very large counterattack (Operation Norwind) to be made in conjunc tion with the planned German attack in the Ardennes Forest to the north (Battle of the Bulge).
Himmler established his headquarters in Colmar, an area within the Allied western front that still remained in German control.
The 103d Division would be engaged in combat in the area west of Strasbourg again after it had been recaptured by the Germans from inexperi enced American troops and French defenses. This loss of territory occurred while we were engaged in the provence of Lorraine, during Christmas time 1944, at the time of a major realignment of the troops on the Western Front for the defense of the Ardennes forest and the Battle of the Bulge.
On the morning, following our cold camp in the woods, our company moved out and down into the valley containing the Taintrux River with a village on the far side of it. We were finally in the war - it was November 16,1944.
We approached the river late at night. As First Scout of the lead squad of the lead platoon, I approached the river to survey the tactical situation. The bridge across had been partially destroyed, but it would be good enough for foot traffic. The town was quiet and appeared deserted. I could get no sight or feel for Germans on the other side - that was my report.
We went across the damaged
bridge real fast in the early morning hours - no responding fire.
As we began to work our way, house by house through the village, a sniper
put a bullet into a door beam 6 inches above my head. Before we were
able to locate and eliminate him, he had shot one of our squad members
just above the eye.
This village, fortunately for us, was not held by a strong force of Germans. We were able to move through the small number of houses and buildings on the one main road and the few outlying structures using the very basic fire and movement tactics we had learned during our camp and field training back in the States.
This last week had been a series of learning experiences for all of us, officers and men. The strengths and weaknesses of our leaders and buddies became apparent with each passing hour, day and night.
The attack on the village took place the day before Thanksgiving, a day of traditional feasting. (November 23,1944 - Roosevelt's Thanksgiving, one week earlier than the traditional day.)
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
We moved to Denipaire on the 23rd. We acknowledged Thanksgiving, dining on canned salmon on the foundation of a collapsed shoe factory. The radios began coming in for repair... some beyond hope. The civilians claimed that the fighting was over and we were asked to vacate their buildings. On the 29th we moved to St. Martin, but this time, for the first time, it was first- class. We occupied Chateaux Honcourt, a 15th century castle with steam heat and running water. Cpl. Carver discovered a French citizen in St. Martin who was the brother of the Nampa, Idaho pool hall proprietor.
It was about this time that I learned to think twice about those souvenirs. First Sgt. FINKBEINER, it was reported, had a German grenade cap go off in his face. There were many times when there was no mess available for repair so we improvised. Hank KOLANDER and I bought two chickens to mark the beginning of repair's mess.
OUR MEN: BECK - APPROXIMATELY
23 NOVEMBER 1944
My First Sergeant has been out of action for quite some time. I still don't know when and if he's coming back. Most of it was his own fault. Quite sometime ago, he and I were checking a factory area as a possible CP. FINKBEINER spotted a Kraut potato-masher that laid in a precarious position. Instead of leaving it for the Engineers to detonate, he had to do it himself. As I was trying to make myself understood to an Alsatian about 20 feet away, we hear this loud report. At first, I thought it was another damned sniper who had bad eyesight. But there was me old "first sarge" holding his face. The damned thing had an extra large dose of powder in the detonator. It didn't exactly explode the TNT as that had fallen off. He wasn't hurt bad. Just a long cut on his forehead and a black eye. He didn't go to the Medics until late that afternoon. What they hospitalized him for was something or other in his eye. He's probably having a good time at a General Hospital somewhere, leave it to him. Yes, he got the Purple Heart, but what a way to get it! Sgt. HESS is my acting first sergeant and if Fink doesn't come back soon I'll promote Hess up the ladder.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Wednesday, November 22, 1944
On alert at 8 a.m. to move. We packed up and a rear echelon unit moved into our place. Moved north past La Salle and over the swollen Meurthe River on a constructed Bailey Bridge. Set up our radio in an abandoned farm house near surprisingly intact town of La Pecherie. Found hay for a bed and a few old coins. Found chopped wood and potatoes in the kitchen. Warm sleep for a change.
Thursday, November 23, 1944 -
Thanksgiving in the Vosges
Spent the holiday on K.P., but, oh well -- filled up on turkey. Anyway, it rained most of the day -- and very muddy. The whole front is active and moving. One of our radio crews is on a Task Force striking for Strasbourg.
OUR MEN: GILL
Within the next day or so we rejoined the Division CP at La Pecherie for a fine Thanksgiving dinner and our first 88 show. Much later, I was to find that also on that very day my brother was in Le Souche (about 8 miles south of La Pecherie) getting shot up in pretty good fashion. By the time I found out he had been in the 36th Division (Christmas time), he was well on his way home.
OUR MEN: BECK - France 23 Nov
...there isn't even a roof left on places of business. War is so destructive, it is pitiful. Places that were so poetical picturesque in peacetime consist of rubble and debris. The man who probably owned that pretty French Cafe with an outdoors restaurant is either in the French Army, a prisoner of the Boche, an escaped refugee or dead.
On one occasion we moved
into a town and occupied some of the houses. I set up Company Headquarters
in a farm house, amidst a cow, about 50 rabbits and a few chickens.
The owner returned after we took over. He was so happy to see us
(Americans) in his house. He dug up some cognac that he had buried
under the house and gave all the men around a drink. The poor man
had only recently escaped from the Nazis. The farm was damaged and
pilfered a little. I plunked my bedroll down in the kitchen.
The Frenchman was eating a hunk of old dry bread for supper. I told
my First Sergeant to feed him out of the mess hall, which I had set up
in a stable. No, it really didn't stink there. The weather
is always so nasty, that any dry place is heav en....
Today was Thanksgiving. We had 449 lbs. of it in the company. It pays to be in the army. Or does it?
We knew by this time, that there was very little proper eating in the infantry, much less feasting. Eating for the infantry men was a very random and unsatisfactory thing.
The previous day, we each had partially eaten a K-ration, nobody eats a complete K-ration. This day was the same. We eat what we can carry, or whatever we can find in abandoned houses, barns and/or German defense positions.
We were able to carry a K-ration - a wax impregnated paper box about the size of a CrackerJack box, containing a can of meat similar to Spam, hard crackers, instant coffee, powdered fruit drink, a hunk of cheese, several cigarettes, matches and toilet paper.
On this first Thanksgiving Day, Ledbetter and I had cleaned out some German dugouts and found some black bread, butter, potatoes and some not- so-fresh eggs. There was a small stove, we prepared a warm meal and rested a bit. Sgt. Karsner was worried until we finally showed up in the area where most of the platoon was gathered.
We had been moving most
of the night before and during the better part of that day, on the traditional
Thanksgiving, the following week. We were dead tired when we entered
a traditional French village with houses fronted by the ever-present manure
pile and barns. Some of us found places to sleep in one of the first
barns we came to on the edge of town
I fell sound asleep, when I awoke to the call, "Where's Roget?", I expected it to be for the promised dinner. Instead, the platoon was forming up to move out - the dinner was over!
The rear echelon cooks, working safely behind our advance knew where the bulk of the company men were on Thanksgiving. They had brought forward to us the best traditional meal they could prepare, turkey, dressing, potatoes, gravy and canned peaches. The food was fairly hot when it went into insulated containers, but the time required to pack and move it made it barely warm or cold before it was served.
Apparently, when the food arrived, Platoon Sergeant Weslowski, had failed to make sure all of the men had been gathered for the meal. Now that he needed me, his First Scout of the squad that would lead the platoon down the road, I became important in his slow thinking.
I really was mad, I told him exactly what I thought of him as a person and a leader. I was not afraid of a charge of insubordination. What could the Army do to me, a private first class, for punishment. The platoon officer, who came up during my rage, did not say anything - I believe he knew what a poor person Weslowski was.
The next day, the company
was moving up, our squad was not in the lead but was back in the column.
We began to detect the terrible odor of diarrhea - a legacy of the Thanksgiving
dinner most of the company had eaten.
The cooks, apparently, had not properly prepared the food or cleaned the insulated canister cans in which it was transported.
Most of the company was experiencing "the agony of defeat of diarrhea". The men were wearing almost all the clothes they had, it was the easiest way to carry them. In addition to that, some of the men were encircled by heavy ammunition and equipment belts.
My best buddy, Glen Hansen, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man was behind me when he whispered, "WAIT!", and started frantically trying to undo his clothing and belts - and then, "Too late". He had filled his pants, long johns, and shorts. There by the side of the trail, using wet, dead leaves he tried a little cleaning up, but it was hopeless - he buckled back up, and we moved back to our positions. Many of the men were soiling their clothing and their bodies - it was a terrible thing.
Because of our situation, the movement of the column, the terrain, etc., there was no convenient way for most of the men to even do any preliminary cleaning for hours. It was several days before it was possible to partially bath and change clothes.
Some of them were so incapacitated by the diarrhea, they were not able to continue, and consequently, they were not wounded or did not lose their lives in the ensuing battle.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS
We are now in an area of small villages and there are houses occupied by French citizens who must be asked to share their houses (or barns, etc.) with us clean-cut American liberators. In the immediate area of the CP, housing is usually acquired by the Civil Affairs officers and men and then the Signal Co. officers and non-commissioned officers assign GIs to them
For small semi-independent radio and wire teams, the acquisition of lodging is a more individual and personal task. Sgt.Jones' team will spend its first night in a house, that is almost. We spent most the night out laying four different lines and dragging lines in the woods and across streams. It was from this setup that we went on to St. Diè to spend a big Thanksgiving day and night.
In St. Diè, the Germans had set many fires as they retreated. They made a special effort to try to destroy the building where a sixteenth century cartographer first put the name AMERICA on a map.
The Germans had destroyed the eastern part of St. Diè, across the Muertha River, and had herded the 40,000 civilian population into the western section of the town to slow the advance of the 103d Division. German resistance was minimal. *R-R
OUR MEN: BECK
Johnny (Lt. OLIN JOHNSON) is not with us any longer. I had to transfer him out because the Colonel charged him with inefficiency. I have been working on his reclassification. And then Johnny got sick with Enteritidis of the stomach (that's like severe dysentery). He is at some evacuation hospital now. By the time you get this he'll be at a convalescent hospital. But he won't be with the Signal Company anymore. Johnny really had it tough going, but he lacked that push, that shrewd calculating that goes with the Signal Corps in War. C'est La guerre.
(1995 Editor's note: OLIN JOHNSON was the officer in charge of the wire section when we went into action in the Vosges Mountains. For some reason, he seemed to think that almost every assignment that was given to a wire team required his personal attention. He seemed to be trying to be every where, every time any time wire was being laid.
I recall vividly that I, as the lowest and least experienced wireman in the section, recognized that he was under very great stress and was working himself into a physical collapse condition. He truly was the first "service connected casualty" of the Signal Company.
He attended the 1991 convention, and was in good spirits and seemed to be in good health. He told of the period of his recuperation and then reassign ment to an Officer's Replacement Depot and ultimately to a Signal Battalion - still in the 7th Army.
He had a number of interesting stories to tell. He apparently was a very effective officer and became a Captain before the end of the war. We were sorry to hear of his death in 1992.
OUR MEN: OLIN JOHNSON
The French general in the "Colmar pocket" wanted the honor of capturing the city - the general was back behind the lines, we would have to wait to put our wire lines through the city?? or go 10 miles around instead of 1/2 mile directly through the city.
So that we could get a good start when the word came to lay the line, we moved quietly into the city held by the French.
10 O'clock at night - the German artillery had hit a French barracks containing a lot of small shells or something across the street from us, it sounded like a large battle was going on. Another officer and I ran out to inspect the barracks the men were staying in - as we ran along the building, a large shell or bomb hit the building and took out a big 'horse shoe' shaped section of it from the top floor to the ground.
15 men were in the building. When we finally dug them out, they had been playing cards, they were there in a circle, cards all scattered about -took us 3 days to get them out.
The American infantry had bypassed the town and some time later the French had arrived with a grand display of tanks to "capture" the town.
In the morning when we got ready to lay the line, the crew sgt came back and reported that they could get through the town, the French were going to have a parade.
I went down and there was
a French MP in fancy-dress with white gloves who said, "You can't get through
We had those 2 1/2 ton trucks with the 50 caliber machine-guns mounted over the cab area. I said,"take the cover off the machine guns - I'll give you 5 minutes, you understand five minutes?, we will open fire".
He stood there for about 4 minutes - the last I saw of him he was in a 100 yard dash down the street.
OUR MEN: NANEY
And then there was St. Diè. We hit a roadblock before we got there and I lost 40 years that night. It was along a river where we were looking for a town that wasn't there...too dark. But I sure saw that roadblock. Our jeep driver was behind me with a beef horn, and was it loud! We made it out of that okay.
How many can remember the "screaming meemie" of St. Diè? It could actually make you jump an 8-foot fence, and light running. Oh,yes...I was driving a 6x6 GMC, which was not the most convenient to turn around in a big field. But this was on a very narrow road and there was danger of mines on the shoulder. My little driving light was very dim and my eyes were not too sharp as they should be. But I learned from then on I had better look sharp, feel sharp, and be sharp. My truck #51 was an "old faithful". We soon after traded our 2½ ton for a 1½ ton weapons carrier. Then to the mountains proper. We went on still more corduroy roads and hills. The towns I can hardly remember, but the roads and hills I can remember very well. The 1½ ton Dodge got us almost to the top of the mountains. Then we traded for a 3/4 ton to finish the job and after we got over the mountains we started trading back.
I can look at the maps and
really see some of the things I wish I could forget. Most of my experiences
were nice, but some were not so nice. But I will try to get a few
of the good ones in.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - NOVEMBER
24 PROVENCHERES 1 NIGHT
The wire team had its first experience with 88mm cannons that the Germans use so well as combination tank, artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons.
We came up to a convent building here and the infantry men were lying in the ditches. They were so surprised to see us on our big ton and a half truck. The truck stopped right in the middle of the road, we were unaware of the recent shelling. They just muttered about shells, dead guys, idiots, and stuff like that.
We moved on down the road and about half an hour later while Wilbur Ellis was making a wire tie in a tree and Red LARSEN was making a ground tie and policing the line (Sgt. JONES and I were off the road stealing apples) there was more shelling in our area that landed closer to Red's position. We all joined up quickly at the truck and took off down the road, feeling very important to the war effort.
OUR MEN: FADER
I think we were assigned to the 411th and here are some remembrances-- small French farming villages with barns attached to houses and manure piles out front; a bombed out village with some houses still standing though minus a roof or a wall and we went exploring to see if we could spend the night "indoors" and found the most delicious apples spread on the floor of an attic; another abandoned village where some of the houses seemed to be intact and we found one with a bedroom with two beds and linens and everything and went to sleep only to wake up in the morning with the sun in our eyes--the roof was gone; St. Diè, where the 411th had their hands full--a bloody mess--and so was Haganau.
I remember that whenever we pulled into a village and set up our radio truck, usually alongside some building (to avoid being sighted?) and the infantrymen kept quite a distance from us. But then we had very little traffic, little to do radiowise except change frequency every 24 hours. It seems that the preferred means of military communication was the field telephone.
(1993 Editor's note: It certainly seems reasonable to believe that the major method of communication was by wired telephone, telegraph and other systems. If a regiment commander had an urgent message for his men forward or behind his position and there was a telephone connection as there most often was, he would be unlikely to rap on the door of a radio truck and ask "Can we talk?", or "Can you quickly encode and send this urgent message?" However, that first incoming artillery shell had an uncanny way of finding and knocking out those telephone lines, then the radio operator "lepers" were more than welcome.)
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 103d Division's first objective was St. Diè, the city where cartogra phers first identified America on a map in honor of Amerrigo Vespucci the Italian explorer. As the battle raged around St.Diè we eventually got our truck out of sight behind a manure pile and that seemed to work but the adjacent barn attracted an occasional mortar round and sustained a fair amount of damage.
The cannon company of one of the regiments had emplaced its howitzers part way up the mountain at the edge of the forest to our rear. They opened up with the characteristic "BLAT!" sound that 105mm howitzers made and fired two or three missions before the Germans found them. The answering artillery fire was long but the tree bursts were severe and there were casualties.
It became clear that the kind of foxhole we had dug on the rolling plains of Texas were worthless in the trees. Here, foxholes had to be covered with several layers of logs to provide adequate protection.
While we were parked behind
the manure pile we noticed that the mortar fire had exposed a large supply
of lumber in the barn. Some of the boards were just the right length
to attach to the bows supporting the canvas on our truck. We stripped
off the canvas and nailed the boards to the bows and covered our new wooden
roof back up with the canvas. This was the start of a continuing
project to winterize the working area in the back of the truck and make
it as comfortable as possible ----Our new home away from home.
13. Into The Valley And The Real War
Early in November, Devers had wanted to swing his 6th Army Group forces to the north towards Moselle and Eisenhower had given a decision in favor of that drive with the provision that Devers must not leave any Germans west of the Rhine and south of Strasbourg. A secure base defense in this area was fundamental for containing any German counter offensive - Eisenhower thought such an attack was possible. *IKEWAR
The 6th Army Group and 7TH Army leaders, Lt.Generals Devers and Patch after the successes of the advance since leaving the slow fighting of the Vosges, had been contemplating a Rhine crossing by the 24th of November. Their plan was to put pressure on the Germans by pressing them hard thus making it possible for the US 3rd Army just to the north to also rapidly advance into German territory.
Devers, Patch and Haislip, XV Corps commanders were certain that the XV Corps--in position on the northern edge of the 7th Army front, adjacent to Patton's 3rd Army, could seize a bridgehead in the Ratatt area with relative ease and that the VI Corps would be ready to exploit northward through that bridgehead, thereby out-flanking the German fortifications west of the Rhine. Devers was also confident-- mistakenly as it turned out--that the First French Army, with the aid of one or two 7th Army divisions, would make short work of the battered German Army in the Colmar Pocket. At the time neither he nor his staff appears to have been aware of Hitler's determination to hold on to lower Alsace. *R-R
7th Army Amphibious truck companies were already moving eastward to aid in the river crossing.
This perhaps overly ambitious plan was about to be changed. Eisenhower and his SHAEF staff knew that it was not going to be possible to advance on a broad front into Germany, which was his basic plan, at any time before the end of the year 1944. The problems of getting supplies to the advancing troops had become one limiting factor. The other was the unavailability of trained fighting men to replace the casualties that had occurred in the fierce fighting since the Landings at Normandy and Southern France.
Eisenhower and Bradley began a tour of the southern front to assess the condition of the leadership, the morale and fitness of the troops, and the tactical situations as understood by the local commanders. They visited Patton's 3rd Army HQ at Nancy and they judged that Patton was in trouble. In spite of the fact that Patton's troops could "beg, borrow or steal" supplies to keep their bold forces moving, there just was not enough to sustain an aggressive drive and the weather was becoming less favorable. There were stops at Luneville to meet with Devers and Patch, and then Sarrebourg (the XVth Corps command and Brooks' VI Corps at St. Die and finally the French Army still further south.
Eisenhower's conclusion was that plans to cross the Rhine any time soon were to be abandoned. Generals Devers and Patch strongly argued for their plans. They were convinced that the successes in the 7th Army area should be exploited with a strong drive into Germany by the combined 3rd and 7th Armies.
Eisenhower insisted the French eliminate the German 19th Army elements in a strong defensive pocket at Colmar before the 7th Army pushed to the north. Devers, for some reason, believed the German 19th Army had ceased to exist and was not a threat to his forces. He let the French Army form into two columns for a competitive attack to liberate Strasbourg instead of using the French against the serious German threat at Colmar. The German forces in the Colmar Pocket were not eliminated. They were later strengthened and exerted an adverse impact on the Allied operations until eliminated at Eisenhower's strong insistence 3 months later. *IKEWAR
Eisenhower held to his policy that called for destroying all German forces west of the Rhine, from the Netherlands south to the Swiss border, before initiating any major operations east of the Rhine River. His operational concept also dictated that the main Allied effort pushing toward and into Germany would take place in the north. *R-R
OUR MEN: DONLAN
- Friday, November 24, 1944 - St. Die
Loaded our weapons carrier radio equipment to move. We left La Pecherie late afternoon and up steep roads deeper into the Vosges. Went past completely leveled and burned St. Die. Around the ruins were green hills, beautifully wooded.
There are many signs of a hasty German retreat. Near dusk we finally got to Provencheres in Alsace-Lorraine. The town was just captured this morning and is fairly intact. We set up in a textile factory, so I got some cotton to make a mattress and slept on the floor.
Just before leaving La Pecherie today, General Eisenhower drove by with Lt. General Patch in a long convoy. I saluted "Ike".
Devers was clearly upset over the results of the meeting with Ike and Bradley. Devers thought Eisenhower should reinforce success--that is, the 7th Army's breakthrough to the Rhine, and that Eisenhower was more concerned with territorial objectives than with destroying the enemy.
The November 26th SHAEF decision was still in dispute 30-50 years later. *R-R
The commander of the VIth Corps expected the 103d to clear the west bank of the Meurthe River opposite Saulacy and St Leonard, before the 20th. By 26th Novem ber, the leading elements of the 103d were in Ville, just 5 miles short of the Alsatian plains. *R-R
OUR MEN: EVANS
Colonel Donovan P. Yeuell, the 411th Regimental Commander, usually set up the regimental advance CP at the advance CP of one of his battalions. This in turn was usually with the CP of one of the infantry companies. Yeuell liked to be close to the action so he could assess the situation and make prompt first-hand decisions so the place to look for him was the 411th Regimental Advance CP or some place forward of that.
In ten days time, the 411th Infantry Regiment attacked through Combrimont, passed quickly through the 409th's sector at Frapelle and Provencheres and, in a rapid advance, attacked Steige and Maisonsgoutte.
By November 25th, the 411th Infantry Regiment had captured Maisongoutte. Col. Donovan P.Yeuell was credited with the capture of two prisoners as he accompanied the lead infantry platoon into the town.
In fast moving situations like this, our radio was almost Col. Yeuell's only contact with Division Headquarters. Wherever he went, we went and it was becoming clear that he would spend a lot of time in dangerous places -- so much for the nice, comfortable, safe sound of assignment to 411th Regimental Headquarters.
The 411th advance Command Post (CP) moved into a building facing the German positions. The building entrance was at street level, but the building was dug into the mountainside and extended out to the rear so the ground floor in front was the second story in the rear. the rear exit was a story lower. There was an outhouse behind the building.
The CP was at street level, and our radio crew was sleeping in the rear of the same floor.
At dawn, 411th infantrymen who had slept in most of the other
buildings in town had fallen out into the street and were preparing to
move out against the Krauts. Then all hell broke loose. The
CP came under heavy enemy artillery fire that threatened to destroy it.
The very first few rounds landed outside the CP building directly under
the heavily shuttered downstairs windows in the rear of the building.
A second and third round came in very close to the point of impact of the first and then rounds came in all up and down the street. The infantrymen were caught by surprise and there were more than fifty casualties within a few yards of the CP.
An emergency Battalion Aid Station was quickly set up in one room of the CP at street level.
Someone risked a look out through the shutters and shouted, " Hey, there are wounded down there." I ran down the stairs to the lower level at the rear of the building and saw an unconscious G.I. lying on the ground. I crawled out and dragged him back inside. There was no visible sign of a wound. As soon as I got him inside the building I got my shoulder under him and carried him up to street level where the aid station was being set up.
When I went out for him I thought that I heard someone else crying for help so I went back down to the rear exit. There was another infantryman there at the door. He said that he was looking for his buddy who had brought a German prisoner down to the outhouse and had not returned with him.
I told them that his buddy was wounded but that I had gotten him up to the battalion aid station.
The first artillery shell that had wounded his buddy had hit directly behind the outhouse and had blown the German prisoner out of it. He was sitting on the ground crying,"Mama, Mama," We ran out to get him. The other G.I. grabbed his shoulder and I grabbed his feet. He was seriously wounded and one of his legs pulled right out of his pants. We managed to get him into the building and up to the aid station but he didn't make it. He was too severely injured. The American soldier that I brought in did survive. His wounds were serious, too, but they got to them quickly enough to save his life.
A 411th infantryman, a private named Edward Holt, acted on his own initiative to locate the enemy artillery battery. He got so close that he had to call in fire from our artillery right on his own position in order to knock out the German artillery. For his heroic actions he received the Distinguished Service Cross.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - NOVEMBER 25 ST. MARTIN 5 NIGHTS
It was in the next town up from here that we saw our first wholesale slaughter of our infantry boys that had taken place an hour or so before we got there. There had been a deadly barrage of artillery or mortars that had landed on our infantry as they moved up the road.
The continuing action had been so fast that all of the dead were still where they fell. The unknown number of wounded men had been carried off. We didn't like the looks of this scene. Some of the fellows had been hit pretty hard and that increased the feeling of anguish.
As many times as we saw our dead or wounded soldiers, we never got over the feeling of sorrow that, soon, some family back home would be getting a message that would create an expanding circle of grief or possibly, news with a less traumat ic message.
Our feelings also applied to the Germans we saw, but with a little less personal involvement. Seeing these mostly young, blond men also caused us to think about our situation.
OUR MEN: BECK (letter written 2 Dec. 1944) about St Martin on 11/25/44
... High above this town (of St. Martin) is a beautiful chateau
untouched by the ravages of war. When it was under siege I was on
the outskirts, entering it when our infantry had pushed the krauts further
back. This town was earmarked for a Div CP and I was on the hunt
for a place to put my company. The Chateau caught my fancy as I rode
through the now deserted street looking for a possible sniper.
Her hair was white, done up, in an upswing.
I spoke to her in French telling what I desired. She spoke a little English. Soon her son (about 36 years old) appeared. He, too, understood a little English. After they learned of what I wanted they showed me the grounds.
There were four very beautiful buildings, two with towers, a private motion- picture house, a chapel, several bath houses, a swimming-pool and an underground shelter. Beneath the swimming-pool was a turkish bath (inoperative at the time). The driveway swung all around the houses and continued on out. All the houses were well furnished.
The Signal Company moved in a few hours later. My office was located in the main house (The Master's quarters) in two rooms overlooking the mountains. When we were set up the son, (his name was Jean Klienknischt) paid me a call and told me about himself, his mother and the grounds.
Primarily they are very wealthy (or were). His father was a Professor of Surgery in Paris, but died in February. Jean, unmarried, was left to run the eight factories owned by the family. He and his mother live in the Chateau alone with about five servants (maids, housekeepers, cook, gardener, etc). Their main home is in Strosbourg [sic] which had been in German hands until then. This was only their summer estate.
They lost a great deal by the Nazi occupation, but nevertheless were not poor as most French were. Reasons why they weren't completely wiped out are many, most of which will never be known. The old man was quite a public figure for one. Jean had a great deal of influence in the manufacture of goods, such as cloth, wool and silk - all used for uniforms. They lived under the Nazi yoke for four years - as a result they speak German quite well. Suspicious? At first I was, but the Counter Intelligence Corps checked them and they are basically French.
They lived in the privately built bomb proof shelter for weeks while all the fighting was going, existing on black Kraut bread and vegetables.
When it became quiet they ventured out to obtain more food and water from the house. The Jerries had started to shell the grounds many times. During one of these quiet periods, as the old woman was coming out of the house, she heard a motor coming up the driveway. She was badly frightened. She told me later that she was amazed and happily surprised to see "little truck." It was SHELDON and myself coming up the driveway in my jeep (Sheldon, as you know, is my driver and my man Friday.) And that's where I started this description.
They gave me whatever I wanted - not that I was demanding. All my men were careful not to break anything or act impolitely. The house had steam heat, lights, a beautiful radio from Germany in my room and all conveniences that you could think of. A piano was even there, which AMBROSE (remember him?) played.
The people were very well educated, very refined and thrilled with having Americans running all over the place. (REALLY ??) They hung out a big American Flag and French tri-color which had been hidden.
I operated out of there for about four days, when I went back to the mud and dirt and torn buildings. When we pulled out they wished me "bonne chance" - (good luck.)
The chateau was completely furnished to include its steam baths. Coming from the mud and dirt it was a revelation. Of course we pushed on, and it was just a memory. "Rags to riches to rags" or "once in a lifetime" - call it what you like.
(When Capt. Beck and his rear CP staff moved out, the Supply and Maintenance Groups moved forward to move into this very comfortable quarters according to "SMITTY" who certainly would know real comfort when he sees it. DONLAN also wrote into the record about his group's stay there November 29, 1944. Neither of these fellows indicated the owners of the property were distressed at their moving "down the road".)
OUR MEN: BECK
... That old bedroll of mine is a god-send. I plunk it down anywhere, in the mud, rain, grass or in a house and I am as warm as toast. It is on fortunate days when we bivouac in a town. Normally, we brave all this cold, wetness, rain and MUD. The mud here is from 1" to 10" deep and the stickiest stuff you ever saw.
I'll bet that you picture me dodging from trench to trench. It's not quite that bad for me yet. Most all of my moving is done in my jeep. The Signal Co. moves with the Division Hq. and we jump from one place to another. Our purpose is communication.
OUR MEN: DONLAN -
Sunday, November 26, 1944
Attended mass at the village church, with large statue of Joan of Arc -- by a Division artillery chaplain. Took a shift on radio net and very ill with flu at night.
Monday, November 27, 1944 - Reeling with flu, but time to move on today, after drawing new rations. We moved out at noon. Climbing higher and higher into the mountains, passing through Colmay Le Grande and Lubine. Very swift-flowing mountain streams. Got to Fouche past several cleared road blocks.
The town was heavily shelled last night and this morning by German artillery and mortars. Bargained with a Frenchman for half of his house and laid the 28 line to the switchboard -- and several long overheads. Newly-captured Nazis (many quite young) marched up the road. Saw B-17 formation overhead headed for Germany with vapor trails behind in a clear sky (impressive!). Slept in basement, after K Rations with German jelly. Owner is very hospitable.
Tuesday, November 28, 1944
- Fouche - The radio team with the Task Force returned with lots to tell. Hills sprinkled with autumn trees and evergreens. Green meadows slope to rushing streams. Fouche is draped with French flags. But some signs in German in this disputed land. Long hike at night and a warm meal.
OUR MEN: GILL
Within the next day or so we rejoined the Division CP at La Pecherie for a fine Thanksgiving dinner and our first 88 show. Much later, I was to find that also on that very day my brother was in Le Souche (about 8 miles south of La Pecherie) getting shot up in pretty good fashion. By the time I found out he had been in the 36th Division (Christmas time), he was well on his way home.
We were not long with the Division CP nor did we act as NCS (Net Control Station) very long. When pulling out of the bivouac area, headed for rear echelon (Epinal) to have our set checked over, Boitos met us at the exit road, gave us a little sketched map and redirected us to La Bourgance to join up with the Division Advance CP. Interesting happening here - late on that dark, rainy, quiet evening I received a call requesting a signal strength check, presumably from the NCS who had taken our place at the Division CP. My response to this was a 5 x 5 rating of readability and signal strength, (his signal was perfect). His response to this transmission indicated my signal strength as very poor and zero readability, and a request for more V's. After about the second or third request for V's I began to become uneasy and justifiably so, I thought, as a new sound pierced the atmo sphere. Whoosh - thud, whoosh - thud. 'Tho I had never heard them in actuality before, it certainly did sound like incoming mortars as depicted in some of those war movies I'd seen.
My hyper-imagination told me that if the Krauts had jammed our frequency, they could be crafty enough to use a direction-finder on us. A quick call to rear echelon for a signal and readability check received a 5 x 5 response (perfect), so when NCS called for another series of V's (though I really wanted to send QQQ),
I conjured up the proper Q signals to tell him that rear echelon would act as relay. By this time, incidentally, I was lying on the bed of the truck, trying to slither down through the cracks.
Another platoon and squad was leading the attack through the woods and they were being held up by a machine gun emplacement. One of the First Scouts of the platoon knocked it out with a grenade and rifle fire. He was recommended for a bronze star but he was killed a short time later.
When our squad moved into the action, there was a machine gun nest that was holding us up and creating a lot of confusion and scaring some of the men into inaction. I had learned, early on, that the faster you moved around and didn't stay in one place, the better off you were. So, I was moving from place to place and was able to shoot the machine gunner. He rolled down the hill and almost into me - I noticed that he was about 15 years old. His young age didn't bother me, at the moment, but over the years it has disturbed me.
I saw a German behind a tree who was shooting at men to my left and getting some pretty good hits. I took a shot at him and missed. He shot at me, the bullet hit the edge of the tree and ricochet off instead of going through. Eventually, I was able to shoot him and I moved on forward. He was an officer, I took a pistol and a leather-bound notebook from his body, before moving on.
There was another German off to the side, behind some stacked wood, shooting very effectively at the first platoon of C company, I shot him from my better position.
Soon the firing ceased, since I was out in front, I stayed in place until the rest of the company came up. As the result of that action, I received the bronze star metal, the first one in the 411th Regiment, presented by Colonel Yeuell.
The First Scout, who wiped out that first machine gun nest, as we came up that goat trail, got his bronze star posthumously. In this action, he was in the platoon to our left and was killed by rifle fire, possibly by the soldier in the wood pile.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Wednesday, November 29, 1944 - St. Martin
Pulled out with one of the radio teams. Into town of St. Martin where some of radio was set up in a rich mansion. Most were in town, so we set up in a tavern (much better!). But confusion reigned. We were "kicked out" of there, so back to the mansion - 3rd floor. Helped lay 28 line to message center in town. Slept in the hay loft after a chicken dinner.
Thursday, November 30, 1944 - Four letters from home raised the morale. A bath in the mansion felt great. Cleaned out our radio truck and ran the jeep with equip ment between the 399 and Radio Repair. The hills are terraced and cultivated around here.
The 409th Regiment had fought out of the Vosges mountains and into Ville on November 25 and another regiment had pushed through the heavily defended Climont mountains.
The 6th Corps turned some of it components to the north, but the 103d's next objectives were to be LeHohwald and Barr. The 411th reached LeHohwald on the 27th. On the 29th the 411th cleared Barr. The rest of the 103d moved to Dambach- la-ville (5 miles north of Selestat) by the 30th.*R-R
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 411th slugged its way slowly through a succession of small villages. St.Martin, Le Howald, Andlau, and Eichoffen. The advance CP was set up in a building near Le Howald.
Every radio truck carried a reel of "Spiral-4" cable. We had no idea what it was intended for but we quickly found a good use for it. We rigged up a way to run this cable out to a safe place like the cellar of a building and used the several insulated conductors in the cable to hear our receiver, turn the transmitter on and off, and send messages over the transmitter, all by remote control.
We had a heavy duty battery on the truck to handle the radio gear as well as the electrical equipment of the truck, lights, ignition, etc., but we had to be careful not to run the battery down. This meant that in situations where remote control was definitely called for, we still had to go out to the truck periodically and run the engine for a while to recharge the battery. The other side of the coin was that we could not just let our engine run indefinitely without risking running out of gas at an inopportune time.
We ran into no more opposition on this drive toward Barr, until we came down out of the hills into Maisonsgoutte. We surprised some Germans in the town. Some of them surprised a few of us - there were a few casualties. At the far edge of town, we set up a road block by occupying buildings on both sides of the road.
Glen Hansen, now recovering from diarrhea, found a wash area in one of the buildings, and was finally able to wash his long johns. His skin was very irritated - he had no medication.
In the morning, when our units started to move out of the town,
we came under an artillery attack by German 88mm guns. We had a number
of casualties, until Sergeant Pahulski of our platoon led a patrol to silence
the 88's on the mountain above the town. He received a Bronze Star for
his effort and leadership.
In our combat during this time, captured villages and incidents seem to run together. we were always tired, cold and hungry. Often during the long nights, I would go to sleep leaning on my rifle, too tired to get up and down each time we stopped.
A "used up" GI said, "We were loaded and had to drag it all up the slippery slopes, through the brush and down the ravines. We carried our rifle, a belt of ammo and three bandoliers, a grenade launcher, maybe three AT grenades, and three or more hand grenades.
Then we packed our raincoat, our sleeping-bag if we still carried it, our shovel and our rations. The grenades were dangled from our bandolier or rifle straps, stashed in a jacket pocket or else hung from our pocket by jamming the grenade handle through a buttonhole. The four jacket pockets were the infantryman's warehouse. There was always room for one more thing. We were always going to clean them out when we got time but we never got time. There was still stuff in them from Marseilles. With jacket crisscrossed by our rifle belt and the bandolier straps we bulged like Mae West on top and flared out like her at the hips. As we ate our way through our rations, we would save out the cigarettes and the matches, the candy, the sugar, the chewing gum and the toilet paper.
The toilet paper we would cram into the shock band of our helmet liner, but everything else would go into the jacket pockets. At first we experimented with a filing system - cigarettes and matches in the right breast pocket, gum and sugar in the left. But when we would find a strap pinning the pocket shut, we used another pocket. So we would end up with a conglomeration worse than the contents of a woman's handbag in each pocket."
During the time of the Dallas convention and the trip to Camp Howze and Gainesville, in a recorded conversation with Bob Pulsifer, an infantry man from Meskegon, Michigan he related a very interesting story of his first and only contact with the German enemy.
Jerome WALDREF, Pulsifer and I were visiting together when Bob said that he was taken out of action on the very first day that his company of the 411th Regiment was committed to their first attack.
PVT. PULSIFER - 411th INFANTRY
"It was very early in our first action. We were down out of the Vosges mountains and onto the more open terrain of fields, pastures, small rivers, and little villages. Our company had crossed a small river and were advancing down a country road when we came under an intensive mortar attack. One of the first bursts was in the trees very close to me. Right next to us was a cemetery. When I got hit, they wouldn't have far to take me."
(That was your very first thought, if this was really a bad event?)
"Well, it did come to my mind in the very first moments - a
response to the shock perhaps.
I was hit in several places by the shrapnel; inside my mouth, outside my nose, in my back, in my leg, had a hole through my ankle and a busted arm."
(Man, that was some kind of being hit, wasn't it?)
"Yes, but some of the other guys were also in bad shape and worse - I think at least one boy died."
(Did they have a good procedure for evacuating you fellows, or even recognizing that you had been hit. This was very early in the experience for all of you, even the medics?)
"The situation was not good. I couldn't get up and move. Some of the others were in the same condition. Evidently most of the men had pulled out, and a couple of our guys had been killed immediately."
(It was probably better to get hit early in the war before you went through all of the blood, sweat, and tears of the plodding campaign?)
"I don't know, it was no picnic getting hit - if I had to get it, I am glad I got it early. We laid there until dark, some medics and other men came up and stayed with us."
"They worked all night putting a rope-bridge crossed the river, and in the morning, they started to move us back. All that had gone before was bad enough, but when they were working back across the trembling bridge, they dropped me in the water!"
"I went down under the water and then came back up to the surface and grabbed the bridge with the arm that wasn't busted. They couldn't get me back up and onto the stretcher, so they drug me across and out of the river and through the muddy bank on my stomach, and then put my soaking body on the stretcher."
(You needed more first aid after you crossed the river than you did before you started?)
"I was happy to just get-the-hell out of there!" I think the aid station was fairly close to the river. They did some hasty repairs and then began to move me back with a lot of the other guys from that action and others that had taken place during the night."
I ended up in Paris and, after a period of treatment and operations, crossed the English Channel for a stay in a recuperation hospital.
We sailed home on the 'Queen Elizabeth' that had been turned into a hospital ship. That was in February of 1945, several months after I had been hit."
(What had happened to your buddies after you were taken out of action?)
"I didn't know what had happened to the guys in the units until the reunion in Springfield, Illinois a few years ago. I found the Medic who came up and took care of us and the guy who came up and stayed with us through the night."
(Have you seen any of the guys from your squad or platoon?)
"I saw some of them. A lot of them were killed in the war or had died in the passing years."
How have you been getting along since the war?
"I am O.K., doing good, I still have a black marks on that leg from the shrapnel - a couple of pieces they don't even know about. It has been 48 years."
Our Signal Company personnel had been spread out over a wide area providing communications service. The division along with the other elements of the 6th Corp had moved further out into the broad plain where the enemy as well as our forces had been able to fight a more mobile war and where villages and small cities had d been defended as prepared strong points. The Germans were not particularly concerned that the structures and the areas they chose to defend and some of the villages and other populated areas had been heavily damaged when defensive strongholds were set up in a populated complex.
OUR MEN as they moved forward, at times closer to the advancing infantry and their supporting units than we were planning to be, begin to see just what a mobile war could be. The main strategic plan for the VIIth Army and its divisions was to continue with pressing the Germans back out of areas that they had occupied for several years.
The local Alsace folks seemed to move out of the way of the
conflict as it passed them by, and then returned to their farms and homes
to assess the damage. They also were making judgements about the
"staying power" of these new, semi-skilled warriors. The limited,
but very kind, treatment we received seemed to indicate that we and they
had found friends and supporters.
On 1 December, the 103d division was driving to the east, northeast pushing the Germans back. However, the resistance was tougher - the German supply lines had been shortened. They had made good use of the inevitable delays in the Allied advance to con struct strong points of resistance. They had a civilian population that was more-or-less sympathetic.
The Allied forces, including the 103d division, while not overwhelming, were certainly formidable. The French had captured Strausbourg on 25 November. Selestat, on the plains southwest of Strausbourg, was heavily defended by the Germans. The 103d division was driving eastward toward Selestat, the 36th division was pushing north east toward that same strongpoint.
The Germans were putting up a determined defense and 409th regiment B company and elements of the 36th Infantry division had fought into Selestat and were cut off and almost completely wiped out. Brigadier General Pierce was in charge of the task force and therefore the rescue effort while most of the division had made a motor-march toward Gougenheim in the northeast of Alsace.
There were some fragmented movements of the Division and the Signal Company to allow for Seargents DONOHOE and JONES, their wire-teams, a Radio Operating team --- and others to stay behind the major elements of the Division.
We will be providing communications for a special Task Force Selestat, commanded by Brg.General Pierce, the Assistant Division Commander.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - DECEMBER 1, 1944 DAMBACH LA VILLE
Here was a place that we will always remember because it was typical of almost everything that happened to us during our period of combat. (In 1991, I can remember most of the events but the town name is just another location.)
We had gone forward on our way to Gougenheim, but were still
lagging behind the main elements of the division. We hit here just about
the time we should have been having our evening meal. The town had just
been cleared of enemy troops during the day and in the evening when we
arrive there were a small number of "back-up and service" GIs setting up
Most of the signs were in German. The people seemed to have leaned toward being more sympathetic to France since the end of World War One.
As usual, during the combat in and near a town, the people had gone somewhere else to be out of harms way and show up again when the situation is more stable. Most of the civilian population was not around when we came into town.
We were quite tired and not particularly concerned about the unstable tactical situation. We are in country that has been bypassed by the bulk of the division and there is a possibility that German troops are about.
We setup in a stocking factory and rolled our bed rolls out on thousands of pairs of fine women's stockings! The setting was very unusual, we never figured out what the material in the stockings was, silk, rayon, or some other slick material.
Before we had a chance to even think about resting, we were
assigned to lay 2 wire circuits in the direction from which the task force
from Selestat would be coming to rejoin the main body of the division.
We were to meet S/Sgt. William J. DONOHOE and his wire team who were out
in that general direction. We started out putting the wire up on buildings
until we left the town behind.
In the open country the conditions for laying wire were poor. We were moving forward in an unorganized convoy of all kinds of military equipment and troop carriers. To put the wire in any safe, secure place is almost impossible - and to make any time doing it completely impossible.
It was a very dark night and complete black-out conditions must be maintained so that visibility is extremely limited. This caused us at times to almost run into or over obstructions in the road even though we were advancing at a walking pace.
DORTMAN and BARCLAY were policing the wire line down the dark road when they hear faint music from somewhere. Following the sound, they came upon a 614 Tank Destroyer half track vehicle whose radio was tuned to Armed Forces Radio but the volume was so low that it could barely be heard 15 feet away.
They crept up and heard the song, "In the Still of The Night". It was the first music they had heard in a hard month and it gave them a real lift, but also a feeling of lonely sadness.
Down the road again, they picked up several German blankets from a German ambulance that must have run off the road a very short time before. One of the blankets is a little bloody, but they figure "you can't look a gift blanket in the seam".
After recovering our desire to move onward to the supposed
meeting place with the other wire team, we went down the road very slowly
in the complete dark. Just a little further on, the boys on the truck
narrowly escaped injury when Anania hit the brakes just in time to keep
from going out into an open space that had been occupied by a railroad
crossing bridge that had been blown completely away.
After a short period of time recovering our composure and trying to figure out our next possible safe activity, it was decided that just maybe on the other side of this chasm there might be friendly troops. A very dim, tentative light did show occasionally on the other side. By cautiously calling, etc., it was determined that S/Sgt DONOHOE and his wire team were indeed there.
For brave actions during this time, Donohoe was awarded a Bronze Star medal. The only other such award in the records of the 103 Signal Company went to Lt.COLONEL BROWN, Capt. BECK and perhaps one or two others??
The two lines of wire were hand carried across the chasm. There was some small sharing of news and war stories were exchanged and we turned around for the dark trip back into town.
In the town early the next morning, we found that the streets were full of dead German soldiers who did not seem to have been there before. This is still something of a mystery, could we have slept through a fire fight, had these casualties occurred while we were out laying wire?
We went out after some breakfast to lay a line in the direction of Strasbourg. When we returned we found that some of the citizens had picked up most of the Germans and had stacked them like cord wood on a large wagon. The officers were on the top of the pile and it was quite a sight.
(1995 Editor's note: The "stocking factory" at Dambach La Ville became a regular scenic and stopping place for some members of the signal company. ROREM remembers it fondly as a casual interlude. WALDREF occupied it like a well organized requisition team. It is possible that he still has small tools from there that he has not unpacked. He probably gave up trying to trade all of the stockings for favors in the mid-seventies.)
On 4 December, Selestat had been taken after a series of hard fought actions, the 103d was relieved by the 36th and the detached forces moved northward to Gougenheim.
In the French First Army area, on 5 December the large city of Colmar and the surrounding area west of the Rhine river was occupied by the Germans. These strong German forces, on the right flank of the 7th Army and the 6th Army Group were a direct threat to the Allied forces moving past them to the north toward the Rhine river and the German border. SHAEF and General Eisenhower found this situation intolerable. Despite assurances from Generals Devers and Patch that the French would drive the Germans out, they never did until the final days of the war.
The US 7th Army was instructed to move northward to assist
the US 3rd Army in an assault across the Rhine rive at Manheim. This closed
off the possibilities of a drive through Strasbourg and into the heart
OUR MEN: COLLINS
I was a master sergeant, NCO in charge of the Construction Section, assisted by Tech. Sgt. Frazier. I spent most of my time at the front with two or three wireteams, I moved about in a jeep and on foot. The lieutenant in charge of the section spent most of his time at the division CP.
At one time, we took over a German basement of a three story building as our living space since it only had two doors and small windows at the street level. It should have provided adequate protection from German fire.
The only commode in the building was down there with us. Here comes (MARVIN ?) ELLIS down the hall by the stored potatoes and salted down fresh eggs, and going 'full spead ahead' with his pants around his ankles. The Krauts had put a 88 through the window and shattered the commode he was sitting on. The shell did not explode, the commode did, and Ellis thought he might!
I know most of the men in the Signal Company and the section,
and still remember a lot of them.
You know the rest of the story until the shooting stopped. I had 580 rotation points, so I came back to France to fly home and be discharged. I finally came back by ship two months after most of the other men of the division had been discharged.